Ratepayers vs Municipalities

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Nobody responds well to bad service. Websites such as Hello Peter, set up to allow South Africans unhappy at the treatment they have received from various service providers to voice their concerns, are being flooded by complaints from disgruntled - and sometimes angry - consumers. Strangely enough, South Africans have never been regarded as a nation of complainers and it has been said that somewhere in the region of 80% of consumers will not voice their displeasure when they receive bad service, choosing instead to simply walk away and stop dealing with a company which doesn’t live up to their expectations.

This may be true in the world of business, but judging by the seemingly endless service delivery protests, the same doesn’t apply to government. People have been promised certain things and when the government fails to deliver, dissatisfied citizens are taking to the streets to voice their anger. One has only to turn the television on to see yet another service delivery protest happening somewhere in South Africa to realise that there are many hundreds, if not thousands, of unhappy people out there. However, blocking roads and burning tyres is not the only way to attract the government’s attention.

A growing number of citizens are voicing their dissatisfaction in a quieter, but by no means less effective, way. Refusing to accept what has in many instances become an intolerable situation, ratepayers are refusing to hand over their hard earned cash to underperforming municipalities, opting instead to pay the money owed into attorneys’ trust accounts.

The problem appears to be growing and in a recent report released by the Treasury it was noted that ratepayers in 42 towns across the country had declared legal disputes with their local municipalities and had, instead of paying the local authority, placed the money owed in trust.

Some took a stand earlier than others and as far back as 2008, residents of Sannieshof in the North West not only declared a dispute, but took over many of the town’s day-to-day operations, stating that not only were they able to get the job done correctly, they were able to do so at a fraction of the price that had been quoted to the municipality.

In a report aired on Carte Blanche some years back, residents complained that services in the small rural town were virtually non-existent. Raw sewage was flowing through the streets and into homes, there was no water and the town was falling into disrepair. Refusing to accept this, residents formed the Sannieshof Ratespayers’ Association and declared a dispute with the Tswaing municipality.

In a recent report, finance minister Pravin Gordhan slammed the practice, which is being implemented by more and more disgruntled South Africans, saying, “if you live in South Africa, you are using municipal services and you must pay for them. This kind of non-compliance with the law is not acceptable at all.”

He is absolutely right. Citizens who receive a service need to pay for it – but what about those who keep on paying without seeing results? Can you really blame them for becoming a little hot under the collar and choosing to withhold money in an effort to improve the situation?

It appears to be a bit of a catch-22 situation – how can municipalities continue to deliver services when they are not being paid to do so? On the other hand, how can municipalities expect payment for non-existent services?

No one seems to know what the outcome will be. However, one thing which has become increasingly clear is that South African ratepayers are no longer willing to listen to empty promises - they want action, and they want it sooner rather than later.

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