Komani residents threaten total shutdown, demanding the dissolution of ‘failed’ Enoch Mgijima municipality

Komani residents are demanding that Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma disband the embattled Enoch Mgijima municipality.

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has promised residents of Komani (formerly Queenstown) in the Eastern Cape that she would refer their request to disband the Enoch Mgijima municipality to the Cabinet, which will sit on 15 February.

Residents of Komani held a two-day shutdown on 26 and 27 January, demanding to meet with Dlamini Zuma.

Last week, the minister sent a delegation from her office to Komani, but the residents refused to meet them, demanding the presence of Dlamini Zuma herself.

On Monday, Dlamini Zuma held a meeting with leaders of the Komani Protest Action (KPA) committee at Komani Resorts hotel, where they demanded the dissolution of the municipality.

The meeting became heated and Dlamini Zuma left the room, apparently to call the President. She was heard asking, while on the phone, where the President and the director-general were, saying she did not want to commit herself to dissolving the municipality.

“I want the President’s advice on this matter. I don’t want to lie to the people,” she was overheard saying, before returning to the meeting.

KPA member Axolile Masiza said they had only one demand: dissolve the municipality.

“We told her that we cannot wait until the Cabinet meeting. We also warned her that the shutdown on Tuesday would be moving to Whittlesea, Ezibeleni, Tarkastad and Molteno, all under the Enoch Mgijima municipality.”

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Masiza said it was at this point that Dlamini Zuma left the meeting to call the President.

“We also told her about the lack of service delivery in the town and how the town has deteriorated,” said Masiza.

After meeting with the KPA, Dlamini Zuma addressed hundreds of angry Komani residents who had gathered in the town centre. She promised that their demands would be discussed at the next Cabinet meeting.

“I don’t want to lie to you because I cannot make a decision as a minister alone and dissolve the municipality. The decision… needs to be taken by Cabinet. I will ask the President to put this item in our next Cabinet meeting,” she said.

Another KPA leader, Solomzi Nkwentsha, said protest action would continue.

“The town will come to a total shutdown on Tuesday. We are going to close the town until this municipal council is dissolved,” he said.

Legal action

Meanwhile, Komani businesses and Sakeliga, a nonprofit organisation, are going the legal route to force a dissolution of the municipality.

Sakeliga and its partners, the Komani branch of the Border-Kei Chamber of Business and the Civic and Ratepayers Association of Enoch Mgijima have initiated legal proceedings against the government over the dismal state of the municipality.

Sakeliga said in a recent statement that the litigation aims to secure interim relief for businesses and residents of Komani and other affected towns, while developing permanent jurisprudence for greater oversight and intervention by organised business.

“Notwithstanding similarities to other collapsed municipalities, the Enoch Mgijima municipality case offers a distinct and promising factual basis for strategic litigation.

“Sakeliga is therefore adding the municipality to its portfolio of litigation regarding municipal collapse, by which it develops mutually reinforcing judgments that increase accountability where possible, but otherwise facilitate stateproof, community-based solutions where necessary,” said Sakeliga’s Ryno Cronje.

‘Complete collapse’

He said Enoch Mgijima municipality is in complete collapse, despite having been under national administration in terms of section 139(7) of the Constitution since 6 April 2022.

“This is the highest form of administration for which the Constitution provides. This notwithstanding, the dire situation in the towns serviced by the municipality has not improved.

“The municipality owes Eskom almost R1-billion, while service delivery funds are allocated towards ballooning wage bills. Service delivery and infrastructure have all but collapsed, despite piling debtors’ accounts.

“Komani and other affected towns are frequently subjected to unrest, as exemplified by more than 2,000 residents embarking on a shutdown of Komani on 26 and 27 January,” said Cronje.

He said they were aware that court orders compelling the national government’s intervention would not restore order and prosperity, given its track record of rolling state failure.

“We therefore craft our litigation here and elsewhere to anticipate non-compliance with court orders by national government and other levels of the executive arm of the state.

“This entails preparing for successive and concurrent court applications, each extending jurisprudential recognition of and protection for direct interventions by the business community, under supervision of the court, for as long as required,” he said.

“Besides bringing urgent relief as soon as possible, we foresee that the further strategic goals of greater recognition of supervision and intervention by the business community will only be achieved incrementally over time.”

Cronje said a letter of demand had been sent to the government, demanding that Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana invoke his powers to:

  • Dissolve the municipal council of Enoch Mgijima;
  • Immediately implement the municipal financial recovery plan approved by the minister of finance and to ensure its immediate and expedited implementation; and
  • Agree to continued and meaningful engagement with Sakeliga and partners on the recovery of the municipality and the implementation of the municipal financial recovery plan.

Cronje said Sakeliga’s involvement in Enoch Mgijima formed part of a litigation strategy to craft a legal framework within which businesses and communities could supervise and intervene to restore order and prosperity in their local economies.

“We consider this a crucial and urgent endeavour to the benefit of local communities and in the interest of a stable society,” he said.

Taking a stand

Last week, the Civic and Ratepayers Association said it had had enough of mismanagement and malfeasance in the municipality and was taking a stand.

“We will not be part of any disruptive behaviour by the community being mobilised to protest and shut down businesses in a challenging environment with decreasing economic activity,” said the association.

“As if Covid regulations, Eskom load shedding, escalating fuel and transport prices, as well as Komani load shedding due to failing electrical infrastructure is not enough of a challenge… We cannot afford any further disruption and job losses in our town. We will stand firm and do everything necessary to ensure our rights are not interfered with.”

The association said it had written a letter to the President and others in government with a request that the council be dissolved.

“That will enable the National Cabinet Representative to get involved with the [municipal] administration and reshuffle and restore proper governance…

“It will also give the community… three months to organise themselves to elect responsible people to represent them in council. These councillors will be dedicated to restoring our towns and providing efficient and effective services. We need to be part of the solution,” the association said. DM/OBP

Author: editor

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