A meeting between officials from eThekwini municipality and ratepayers deadlocked this week amid an ongoing protest by households who have been withholding their monthly rates payments.
Representatives from eThekwini Ratepayers Movement and Westville Ratepayers Association reportedly stormed out of the meeting after officials could not be swayed by the residents’ plight.
Earlier this month, GroundUp reported that some ratepayers in eThekwini have decided not to pay their municipal bills since July in protest against the municipality’s decision to hike rates by 15.1%.
Many households participating in the protest have been paying their monthly rates bills into a trust account instead of paying the municipality directly.
The residents state the municipality’s 2023/2024 budget does not take the inclusive needs of all ratepayers into account. Among other concerns, the ratepayers complained of water loss and the recent floods. They say that eThekwini’s credit-control policy is failing because its outstanding debt has increased by about R4.7 billion between February 2022 and February 2023.
During the meeting last week, the ratepayer groups hoped to find a resolution to their impasse, but this never happened. The meeting was chaired by eThekwini Speaker Thabani Nyawose and attended by Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda.
Yogesh Naidoo, a representative from the Reservoir Hills community group, said: “The city prepared a marketing pack to present to the public and an agenda, which was provided to us upon registration at the venue. The speaker proceeded to insult the ratepayers and then personally insulted [Westville Ratepayers Association chairperson] Asad Gaffar.
“Asad spoke and addressed the speaker on his behaviour and then read out the 11 points of demand, which he requested for the mayor to sign and respond [to] within 14 days. The mayor responded to a few points, with a few falsehoods. When Asad tried to respond, the Speaker closed the meeting. We then staged a walkout.”
In response to our questions, Kaunda said the main purpose of the meeting was to try and persuade the ratepayers to work with the municipality. However, this was unsuccessful.
“Most of the issues they are raising are issues that we have already started attending to. We are a leadership that listens to the people. It is clear that some of them have been misled,” said Kaunda.
He said households boycotting their bill payments would be dealt with individually, not as a collective.
More for less
Pensioner Brad Potgieter said he joined the protest in an attempt to get help with his high bills. “I support this protest because I’m a homeowner who is watching my property value plummet while the city imposes more and more burden on me financially and gives me less and less in return,” said Potgieter.
In a letter to the eThekwini speaker this week, he stated: “This metro puts out a narrative that it can resolve the twin major challenges of financial mismanagement and abysmal service delivery.
You have fortified our view that the metro views its ratepayers as a necessary nuisance that you, as elected officials, tolerate only grudgingly,” he wrote.
Potgieter said instead of “burning tyres in the streets” and “destroying municipal property”, ratepayers chose this route of protest “as a campaign of last resort to divert payments ordinarily due to the metro”.
“We call upon you and all metro functionaries to always engage ratepayers in a manner that is constructive, frank, serious, and above all, embodies the exemplary dignity that we believe you are able, under improved circumstances, to demonstrate.”