This rubbish is far from over

DA city councillor for Joburg Martin Williams

DA city councillor for Joburg Martin Williams

Politics is central to resolving Johannesburg’s refuse problems.

Nevermind gatvol, we are rat-vol with Pikitup stoppages. Experience tells us the strike will be repeated. This rubbish is far from over. Rats, which have defied extermination in Alexandra, have grown bigger and bolder. It’s another example where poor people are hardest hit when service delivery fails.

Yet, as unhygienic conditions spread across the city, suburban rats are more visible. Rats will plague us until the City of Johannesburg (CoJ) deals with three things: Amanda Nair’s role as Pikitup managing director, the company’s monopoly and overpaid Samwu workers’ predilection for violence. CoJ’s propaganda section works overtime during strikes. For weeks, the “contingency plan” was “leave your bin outside, and hope it will be emptied sometime”.

Then came the plea for private security companies to volunteer to protect Pikitup trucks. Only as Easter ended did we get any intimation that metro police would be called upon to do their jobs. Apart from health and safety hazards, and inconvenience, residents have another gripe. They are paying R290.94 a month, per bin, for a service not delivered.

They ask councillors: why should I pay if I am not getting service? This puts them in a curious position because they are elected by voters, whom they pledge to serve. They are paid by the city, whom they also serve. Two masters. The Councillors’ Code of Conduct, under the Municipal Systems Act, precludes councillors from advocating nonpayment for services.

In addition, the Constitutional Court ruled that non-delivery of service is not a legitimate reason to withhold payment (Olga Rademan v Moqhaka Local Municipality and Others). The judgment held that “a resident cannot pick and choose which components to pay”.

So you cannot decide to pay everything except refuse-collection charges. What is to be done? Some colleagues suggest the city should pass a general credit for all customers. But given the Constitutional Court ruling, such a credit would probably not be enforceable.

Separating waste for recycling is admirable, but not enough. A better solution is to use the ballot box. Vote for a party that delivers services efficiently. Politics is central to resolving Joburg’s refuse problems. When authorities capitulated to the SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu), ahead of local government elections in 2011, the wage bill soared by 40%.

Workers are now paid above industry averages. Private companies, which owned vehicles with the requisite lift-capacity for this specialised work, are no longer available at short notice. Samwu has the city over a barrel, and can cause havoc at will. A different political approach could break the strangleholds of both Samwu and Pikitup.

Neither of them would have a monopoly if services rendered by the municipal-owned company were privatised. The pattern must be broken. Pikitup’s Nair should be suspended again. All allegations against her must be investigated. We must reclaim our city from rats and their ilk.



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