By ROD AMNER
A letter from Grahamstown Business Forum (GBF) chairperson Richard Gaybba to Executive Mayor Yandiswa Vara and Municipal Manager Moppo Mene was the catalyst for a frank and well-attended Makana Stakeholder Collaboration Meeting at the Monument on Thursday.
In his 19 September letter, Gaybba said the city could not be rebuilt without collaboration between all spheres of government, institutions, and civil society.
“Civil society and institutions are willing to collaborate, but it needs to be meaningful, authentic and action orientated.
“We need brave leadership that can accept and drive change. We cannot continue to treat the symptoms; we need to deal with the root causes. Accountability and action are non-negotiables,” he wrote.
At the meeting, Makana Speaker Mthuthelezi ‘Mabuthi’ Matyumza said he accepted “there was a crisis” in the city.
No more ‘us’ and ‘them’
“We are leaving here newly born because there is no more ‘us’ and ‘them’ – we are a collective,” Matyumza said. “We are going to be accountable to you. If you need help with oversight, come to my office – we are responsible for accountability.”
“We want to close the social distance created between the Municipality and the citizens. And we are taking responsibility to correct this,” he said.
‘Your hut is my hut’
In her opening address to explain the purpose of the meeting, Executive Mayor Yandiswa Vara offered some African folklore:
“When a villager’s grass hut leaks, the other villagers will climb onto that leaking house and give it new waterproof layers of strong grass.
The primary belief was that neighbours from the same village should feel the pain of the villager whose hut had been damaged by the rain. That is ubuntu.
If one of the village rondavels is leaking and is not fixed, then all of the rondavels in that village will have the same problem during the next rainy season. And the village will slowly surely face dilapidation.
The realisation was that no stranger would come from another village to fix the leaking thatched roof.
Villagers should instead observe what has happened to their fellow village and call each other to talk about how best they should assist that family in their misery.”Executive Mayor Yandiswa Vara
In a response later in the session, Rhodes University philosophy professor Pedro Tabensky said he enjoyed the parable but wanted to add to the story:
“What motivates people to get onto the leaking roof? There are different sorts of motivations. One is the whip – for example, a court order. Another one is because I want to go onto the roof, and I want to help my neighbours.
I ask the municipality this question: What can we do to make those who the Municipality pays to want to go onto the roof? At the moment, I don’t get a sense that anyone wants to get onto it – or very few.
We know that because there’s been continuous pressure that has gotten us to this meeting. It wasn’t a voluntary, loving gesture that got us here. For that to change, we need to learn to be willing to get onto the roof. Not because we are under threat, but because we love the humanity of our neighbours.
And I think that’s at the heart of the real problems.
You can have as many systems as you want. But, they’re not going to work unless people’s hearts and minds are in the right place to do things. I ask the same of the humanity of everyone in this room, but most particularly of the people who are employed at the municipality: what can we do as a community to get ourselves onto those roofs? Because, ideally, we want to get onto them to make sure that our neighbours are not suffering.”Prof Pedro Tabensky, Rhodes University
Resolutions adopted by the meeting
The resolutions suggested by Richard Gaybba in his letter were adopted by the meeting:
- That both the political and the administrative leadership commit to quarterly engagements.
- That these engagements follow a mutually agreed agenda. The meetings need to be minuted, and resolutions should be adhered to.
- That the Municipal Manager instructs his directors to acknowledge and reply to reasonable correspondence from civil society.
- That civil society is allowed to conduct oversight visits to various critical points like the different water treatment plants, sewerage plants, landfill sites, and various electrical installations under the supervision of the municipality.
- That all stakeholder engagement be authentic and not just a tick box exercise.
- That the Speakers’ office sends all council and portfolio committee meeting schedules and agendas to the civil society groups that request to be added to the mailing list.
Mayor Vara also suggested the establishment of stakeholder working groups dealing with separate issues like economic development and water.
A turnaround is possible
Jay Kruuse, director of the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM), said that despite the “diverse and significant challenges the municipality faces”, it was possible to turn things around.
He said that the Mayor’s presentation on good governance and leadership was too focused on “structures and committees and Council”.
“In our experience, you can have as many committees and councils as you like; you can receive as many reports as you like. But it’s the substance of those reports and the decisions taken that are important. If the substance is inappropriate, and you do not have real action items, and you do not require detailed reporting, then you cannot conduct adequate oversight, you cannot ensure that long-standing problems are addressed,” he said.
He invited the council and the staff to address “the deep-seated issues”. He said the examples cited by the Mayor were “either very general or were cherry-picked and selective”.
“We need to get on top of the organogram. And you get consecutive audit disclaimers because you don’t diagnose the patient. The Auditor General cannot express an opinion because of the inadequacies in the availability of records. So, you cannot get a complete picture of what is needed to restore this municipality.
Communication and transparency
A recurring theme in the meeting was the need for better information and communication systems.
Kruuse said that to build trust with the public, the Municipality should publish their monthly reports to the MEC that are required to respond to the financial recovery plan.
“Show the action steps you are taking to address the flaws.
“We need a functional internal audit team – we don’t have one. That would be an essential requirement to move in the right direction. If you can agree on a priority list of aspects that need solving and you can begin to see movement in that snag list, trust will begin to improve.
“I would implore you to explore that,” Kruuse said.
To sustain our industries – education, tourism, agriculture – we have to have a town that works. Otherwise, we’ll lose the goose that lays the golden egg. Has anybody tried to give 50 guests a shower without water? I wonder if you can understand that challenge?Local businessperson Eugene Repinz
I must congratulate the municipality for not renewing the contract of the previous municipal manager [Moppo Mene] – I am happy about that. He was was just a bad MM.Archbishop Nkosinathi Ngesi, Ethiopian Episcopal Church of Southern Africa