Premier wrong to blame Tshwane whites

It has been a bad few weeks for white South Africans; hot on the heels of the African National Congress (ANC) defending its youth league leader Julius Malema’s singing of “Shoot the boer”, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane has blamed Tshwane’s financial problems on white ratepayers.



Mokonyane’s spokesman argued last week that Mokonyane’s view was based on analysis by Tshwane itself. But is there statistical evidence support this view? While it is clear that local ratepayer associations are becoming increasingly organised and vocal in the face of service-delivery failures, are these groupings any different from those poor communities taking to the streets in protest?





Mokonyane was quoted as arguing that “the city of Tshwane does not deserve to be what it is today because it has a turnaround strategy, but has not been able to implement it”. While she echoed the broader view of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Sicelo Shiceka, when he asserted that rates boycotts, predominantly by wealthier white citizens, were compromising local government, she did not appear to attribute any blame to Tshwane’s management, as Shiceka did, when he identified the metro as one of Gauteng’s most vulnerable municipalities.





We are also of the view that Tshwane is vulnerable, primarily as there still seems to be no recognition by the city that its cash flow crisis of last year was more than the consequence of a cold winter, which pushed up the cost of electricity charges, prompting higher default rates. Indeed, an analysis of levels of consumer debt at the time of the crisis did not support this argument, although this appears to have become a handy excuse by Tshwane for poor cash-flow management — the real reason for the crisis.



Consider the latest evidence on the city’s debt, especially by households when compared with other municipalities: as of December 31 last year, 74,8% of the city’s debt was over 90 days — a worrying figure, but slightly better than Gauteng municipalities’ average of 76,2% and Ekurhuleni’s 77,4%, and only a little worse than Johannesburg’s 73,3%. Households contributed to 66,3% of Tshwane’s debt — a slightly greater proportion than the Gauteng average of 57,1%, but far better than Ekurhuleni’s 77,4%.





The data that are a real cause for concern relate to the city’s cash flow, as released by the National Treasury. Tshwane’s closing balance has steadily crept up from R195000 in July last year to a very worrying R418000 by December. Despite mayor Gwen Ramokgopa’s assurance in her recent state of the city address that the financial crisis was behind the city, the cash-flow trend depicted up to the end of last year is far from reassuring .





Tshwane, as the administrative capital of SA and former seat of Afrikaner power, is always likely to be a political minefield . Regardless, to excuse poor financial management on this trumped-up basis, especially in the face of a very evident cash-flow crisis destabilising the city, where it is plain to see that Tshwane is spending more than it is earning, is clearly wrong.



While it is clear that Tshwane’s mayor refuses to accept reality and stop spending money she does not have, it is incumbent on the provincial government to step in and take decisive action regarding the city’s cash flow and uncontrolled expenditure. To blame this crisis on white ratepayers is not only divisive, it distracts attention from the root of the cause and vindicates Tshwane’s very questionable financial management, it compromises the sustainability of the metro for all of its residents and drives the city further into financial crisis.



It is ironic to hear Ramokgopa and other politicians talking of a turnaround strategy in place in Tshwane when all evidence points to her resisting the very real need for immediate change. But the need for change is not lost on the residents of the city themselves, if the huge protests that shook the city two weeks ago are anything to go by. These protests coincided with the mayor’s state of the city address — hardly a vote of confidence. And no, they were not organised by white ratepayer associations but came from Mamelodi, the ANC’s heartland in the city.