Dear President Ramaphosa
I hear you will be visiting us in Makhanda on Freedom Day.
I chair the Grahamstown Residents’ Association (name change pending an AGM) and would like to welcome you in advance.
In some ways, freedom has been great for our community. We have excellent arts and culture and a few of our schools are doing well.
It goes without saying that everyone is better off for not living in a racist police state.
From there, it goes downhill.
We have a severe water crisis in large part because a R100 million water works upgrade that was meant to be completed in December 2017 failed because an incompetent contractor won the tender.
Emergency action was required to avoid a complete collapse that would have killed the local economy.
Our sewage works is on its last legs and only works at all because there are so many leaks before the sewerage gets there.
That is a problem that should have been dealt with long ago.
Because of these infrastructure failures, construction of RDP houses has ceased.
When RDP houses were built, they were meant to include rain tanks – and those failed to materialise, exacerbating the water crisis.
We have, until a few weeks ago, had a municipal workplace dispute that resulted in no trash being collected for 8 weeks.
We have also recently seen off the threat by Eskom to cut bulk supply that would have closed our university and destroyed what is left of the private sector economy.
The net effect of infrastructure failures and mismanagement of the municipality is a declining local economy with a very high unemployment rate particularly among youth.
As a community we are not sitting back idly and watching the collapse – we are engaging constructively with the municipality where we can and fighting for our rights when we have to.
For example, we went to the High Court to stop the Eskom threat.
A coalition organised a petition that collected 22 000 signatures demanding that the council be dissolved and an administrator appointed under Section 139 of the Constitution.
I was surprised that such a massive petition – 24 000 people voted last municipal election – did not receive a formal response and that matter is now being litigated by the petitioners.
Our freedom is mitigated by living in streams of sewage, a lack of new housing and jobs as well as existential threats to our already inadequate local economy.
I could mention other problems like an uncaring attitude in our hospital and poor performance of many of our schools but my list of issues is sufficient to make the point.
Our people would love to truly enjoy their freedom. But I cannot see that happening until the culture of patronage and corruption ends – tenders that serve only to feed patronage and not to deliver will ultimately destroy our local economy if not brought into check fast.
Mr President, we only ask one thing: that our people are treated with the dignity and respect that is their right.
That includes hearing them when they cry out for help as much as when they cry out in anger.
Philip Machanick (Prof)