Ladies and gentlemen of the media

Thank you for availing yourselves to this media briefing. Its purpose is twofold: it will explain the rationale behind our upcoming meetings with all newly elected municipal Executive Committees (Exco’s) in KZN and it will also update you on our relief efforts in response to the weather-related incidents that have plagued the province during the summer season.

Engagements with municipal Exco’s

The first order of business are our upcoming engagements with the Exco’s of all KZN municipalities, both district and local. The first of these sessions will take place today with the uMgungundlovu and Harry Gwala districts and the Exco’s of their respective families of local municipalities. Tomorrow we will be meeting with eThekwini metro and the Ugu and Ilembe districts in Durban. Next week Tuesday we will be meeting with the King Cetshwayo, uMkhanyakude and Zululand districts in Empangeni. The following Thursday we will be engaging with the Amajuba, uThukela and uMzinyathi districts in Newcastle.

Purpose of the engagements

In some cases, we will be meeting with the councillors who serve in these Exco’s for the very first time in our official capacities – me as KZN MEC for Cogta and them as returning or newly elected councillors. The intention is to establish personal rapport and a good working relationship with everyone serving in these committees. In a way, these engagements are a taste of things to come: we are a provincial government department that supports the sphere of local government and exercises general oversight over the province’s municipalities and we take this mandate very seriously.

In essence, these engagements are designed to explain to members of all Exco’s the extent of our support as a provincial government department to municipalities and the scope of our oversight and monitoring of municipal performance in this province. But above all, these engagements will also demonstrate our approach to intergovernmental relations, which is one of close cooperation and unity of purpose behind a simple goal: to make our local government work better for the people.

Issues to be discussed

The areas we will be dealing with during these engagements specifically include our own assessment of the state of local government, the councillors’ code of conduct, councillor orientation, establishment of ward committees, implementation of the District Development Model, participation of amakhosi in municipal structures, performance of infrastructure grants, and implementation of the KZN Provincial Water Master Plan.

State of local government in KZN

In respect of the state of local government in the province, some of you will be aware that after the 2019 provincial elections we conducted a comprehensive review of the state of municipal governance, finances and service delivery in KZN. The methodology used in this assessment has given us additional tools for oversight and it has also informed our targeted support provided to municipalities. In August 2021, we assessed all municipalities afresh and the outcomes of this assessment will form part of our discussions with the Exco’s.

Councillors’ code of conduct

The councillors’ code of conduct is an important aspect of ensuring that our elected representatives in municipalities live up to their roles and responsibilities in an ethical manner. This is an important topic to touch on just as we begin a new term of local government so we are all on the same page with regards to what it means to be a councillor within the legal boundaries set by the national legislation as well as the rules laid down by your respective councils. It is best to talk about issues of discipline before issues that give rise to disciplinary action occur.

Councillor orientation

With as many as 80% of the councillors elected in last year’s local government elections being newly elected public representatives, it is crucial that we also address the topic of councillor orientation. All manner of capacity-building programmes are still ongoing in municipalities but, over and above this, it is important not to lose sight of what councillors’ roles and responsibilities are and what it means to be an effective councillor when it comes to either deployment to municipal oversight committees or regular constituency work.

Establishment of ward committees

Ward committees are a fundamental part of how our municipalities interact with communities and keep a finger on the pulse of specific communities in order to gauge their service delivery needs. Municipalities are essentially given 180 days after municipal elections to establish ward committees but it is equally important to ensure right from the start that these committees are fully effective as vehicles for meaningful public participation at local level. For this to happen, councillors need to understand how these committees function.

District Development Model

Following the establishment of dedicated hubs and clusters, our fairly new District Development Model is now being implemented in full force. The model essentially ensures integrated planning, budgeting and implementation of infrastructure projects centred at a district level but it is more than that in that it encapsulates how intergovernmental relations should unfold in the context of local government – as teamwork between municipalities and all other stakeholders in the provincial and national governments.

Participation of amakhosi in local government

Among municipalities’ stakeholders I always count our amakhosi as representatives of our traditional institutions. This department provides support to both municipalities and traditional institutions and we do our best to involve the latter in the affairs of the former. This is because traditional leaders and municipalities share the goal of improving people’s lives and bringing development to communities. Our engagements with the Exco’s will focus on ways of making amakhosi feel at home in municipalities and on working together towards common objectives.

Municipal infrastructure funding

Conditional grants are a key source of funding of infrastructure in municipalities and their spending is a good indication of any given municipality’s financial management and level of service delivery. Grant performance is a complex topic and an important part of oversight, both by councillors and other spheres of government, including my own department. I cannot overemphasise the importance of proper planning, budgeting and actual expenditure when it comes to grant funding because unspent grants are returned to the national fiscus for redistribution to other provinces.

KZN Provincial Water Master Plan

And last but not least, our engagements with the Exco’s will also deal with the implementation of the KZN Provincial Master Plan. The plan is a comprehensive blueprint for the province’s immediate, short-term and long-term water needs, both in terms of water supply and infrastructure. The plan has also been customised per municipality so it is an easy point of reference for municipal councillors and officials for the purposes of water delivery to communities. The engagements will serve to familiarise the newly elected Exco’s with the plan as a top provincial priority.

Direct line of communication with Exco’s

I would like to express my hope that our engagements with the municipal Exco’s, starting today and going forward, will always be honest and productive. I also hope that by establishing this direct line of communication between KZN Cogta and municipal Exco’s, both local and district ones, we are giving true meaning to intergovernmental relations. As the province continues to tackle its many challenges, including the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, we need all hands on deck and today’s meeting is proof that we are indeed getting there.

Weather-related incidents during summer season

The second issue I would like to talk about here today has to do with the weather-related incidents we have been witnessing since the start of the summer season and our response to emergencies on the ground. KZN is routinely affected by bad weather and the forecast ahead of this year’s summer season from the South African Weather Service indicated that we would receive above average rainfall. In line with the forecast, we have received a significant amount of rain since 15 December 2021 which have in their wake left a trail of death and destruction across the province.

Disaster statistics

Our disaster management teams have responded whenever and wherever called upon to do so. The inclement weather conditions have resulted in over 200 incidents, which include strong winds, lightning strikes, fires, and heavy rains. Latest reports indicate that 25 lives have been lost (19 drownings and 6 lightning strikes) as a result of weather-related incidents with three people still missing. A total of 28 000 people from over 5000 households have been affected. From this number, 2400 houses were destroyed. It was also reported that there were fifty (50) injuries and six hundred and fifty-three (653) homeless people, all displaced were housed by their neighbours and friends. The estimated cost of the damages stands at R3.3-billion. This includes damage to both public and private infrastructure but we are still assessing the extent of the damage in some of the municipalities.

 It was also reported that there were fifty (50) injuries and six hundred and fifty-three (653) homeless people, all displaced were housed by their neighbours and friends. 

Way forward

We have consolidated a report on the above that was tabled to the Provincial Executive, which then resolved to request the National Government to declare the province a disaster area which will allow the Provincial Government to access funding to deal with some of the damages caused by the inclement weather conditions. At the same time, our appeal to our communities is for to exercise caution, particularly during heavy rains, and avoid crossing flooded rivers or low-lying bridges as this poses a risk to their lives. We are very concerned about the images of young people swimming in flooded rivers. This is reckless and dangerous. We appeal to parents to ensure that children are not placed in danger, particularly when having to cross flooded pathways, especially since the schools have opened.

On this note of extreme caution and concern, I would, once again, like to thank all of you for honouring our invitation to this media briefing.

I thank you!