15 February 2023
Councillors from the Matatiele municipality in the Eastern Cape travelled to Umhlanga Rocks north of Durban for their annual planning meeting, at a cost of more than R1-million.
This year’s meeting, at the Garden Court Hotel, took six days, from 5 February to 10 February. A total of 108 rooms were booked, at R1,500 a day, not including catering. The 54 councillors and some of their staff could each claim travelling costs, up to R3,000.
According to its website, the municipality had a population of about 220,000 in 2016.
Matatiele Local Municipality spokesperson Luncedo Walaza said the exact cost of the event would only be known later this month but R1-million had been budgeted. He did not explain why the councillors preferred to hold the meeting in Durban, some four hours away, rather than in Matatiele. But he did say that the money spent on the meeting would not affect any municipal projects. The meeting was part of a process of building a better Matatiele for all, he said.
Walaza said the municipality is doing well. “Roads are maintained, refuse is collected, grass is cut, storm water drainage system is improved and we are almost 100% in electrifying all villages in Matatiele,” he said.
The grass is indeed cut and some roads are maintained, but not all is well. Three multi-million projects have been dormant for years in Matatiele.
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Construction of the Matatiele sports centre started in October 2019. Phase one of the project was to be finished in December 2021 but the contractor left before it was complete. There is a fence and some grass but not much else. Grandstands, a guard house and floodlights must still be installed.
Walaza said an amount of R21-million had been spent on phase 1 of the project.
The second project GroundUp visited is of three grain silos. Construction started in the 2014-2015 financial year, according to Walaza, to provide storage space for farmers after harvest. An amount of R8.4 million has been used and two silos were finished eight years ago. The third is yet to be built. Neither of the completed silos has been used.
Walaza said the tender for the completion of the sports centre and silos had closed in July last year. He did not say when the two projects would be completed.
A third project, completed eight years ago but not used, is a fresh produce market. Walaza said the municipality had spent R5.3 million on the project but there had been no response from “interested parties” to use it.
Commenting on the sports centre, resident Lubabalo Mandlamakhulu from Itsokolele said the municipality had been promising to finish it since 2021.
“If you look into this field, there’s no way that an amount of R21-million was used but the municipality is defending it saying there was underground rock. Our question is, why did they choose a place with rock while we have so many open spaces in this town,” he said.
“These people attend meetings in Durban but one thing I can tell you is that as residents we don’t see the results,” he said.
DA councillor Wonga Potwana said opposition parties were against the idea of going to Durban just to have a meeting. “The plenary is a must, but in Matatiele we are wasting money. We have 54 councillors whom each are going to claim R3,000 travel allowance. Our problem at Matatiele Local Municipality is we don’t cut costs. There’s a number of unfinished projects here and nothing much is done about them,” he said.