The High Court in Mahikeng yesterday granted urgent relief in Sakeliga’s court application concerning the crisis in Lichtenburg and Coligny in the Ditsobotla Local Municipality.
The judgment forms part of a court case by Sakeliga and others aimed at facilitating the orderly restoration of water supply by communities and forcing national government to intervene. The judgment delivered yesterday is in respect of Part A of the application, dealing mainly with the urgent restoration of water supply to the communities of Ditsobotla. Water supply in the district ground to a standstill following a failed intervention by North West Province several weeks ago, when it dissolved the municipal council without appointing an administrator and paying employees’ salaries, among other things.
The court ordered that the supply of water has to be made available “all the time as per the needs of the community” and granted Sakeliga a supervisory role. The administrator must report to the court on the restoration of water supply within 15 days. In accordance with this order, we demanded from the administrator this morning, among other things, that water supply be restored within the next 24 to 48 hours and that our nominated representatives in the local chamber of business and others be afforded full supervisory access.
Part B of the application, requesting further relief, is scheduled to be heard on 10 November.
Judgment falling short
While the judge’s ruling does give some relief, it is falling short because it is still not prescribing an urgent, orderly way by which communities may restore critical service delivery in a situation of total state collapse. Furthermore, it assigns tasks to the provincial government and the administrator in spite of their proven inability to carry out such tasks and in spite of the province itself having been placed under administration repeatedly.
By granting a supervisory role to Sakeliga, the court is indeed increasing community involvement, but we see this as inadequate and will continue to develop suitable jurisprudence.
The kind of total state decay experienced in Ditsobotla during the past couple of weeks is a looming threat in many municipalities all over the country. State decay leaves a power vacuum that will be filled either by gangs and criminals – accompanied by an exodus of business people and residents – or by community-based organisations that create order instead. Sakeliga’s applications are aimed at judicial facilitation by the court, with a view to creating an orderly mechanism by which communities can intervene, with less risk, to stabilise local economies and communities.
Yesterday’s judgment is inadequate because the court still reserved too much urgent intervention for the administrator and the state. In practice this leaves room for further decay and for criminal elements in the municipality to reinforce their positions of power. Therefore, Sakeliga will continue with our current and other legal action with a view to gradually developing jurisprudence that facilitates greater community involvement.
Meanwhile, Sakeliga will diligently exercise our newly-obtained supervisory authority, regarding the restoration of water supply by the administrator, in cooperation with business organisations and other community bodies in Ditsobotla.
Self-interest of organs of state
The approach adopted by the levels of government and organs of state acting as respondents in yesterday’s court case reveals a much higher regard for self-interest than for the interests of affected communities. Their irresponsible opposition to the relief requested by Sakeliga creates the impression of an attempt to retain control at all costs over the broken municipal supply chain in Ditsobotla.
The notion that communities should be happy to run businesses and households without water, even if they themselves could solve the problem, is untenable and cannot prevail in practice.
Part B of Sakeliga’s application will be heard on 10 November, also on an urgent basis, and deals with more comprehensive medium-term relief. In this part, Sakeliga requests, inter alia, the following:
- A declaratory order that the provincial government did not intervene adequately in Ditsobotla and consequently failed to exercise its administrative competency in terms of the Constitution.
- A mandatory interdict that the national executive should intervene in Ditsobotla in terms of section 139(7) of the Constitution – the highest form of intervention explicitly provided for by the Constitution. This entails, inter alia, that the national executive should implement a recovery plan so as to ensure that basic municipal obligations are complied with.
However, Sakeliga foresees the possibility that the national government, like the provincial government, will not be able to intervene effectively and restore order. We are therefore also giving the court the opportunity to order that Sakeliga, or the court, on an interim basis should appoint a special master with all necessary powers and competencies to restore basic service delivery in the towns, until such time as the national government had restored order and service delivery to the satisfaction of the court. In addition, we are also asking the court for permission to supplement the court papers and relief sought in the event that further failure by the state necessitates intervention in the interests of business people and the communities of Ditsobotla.