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Q&A: DA leader pleads with voters to ‘make wise choices’

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The leader of the DA in the Free State, Werner Horn, says people should not be persuaded by how they have voted in local government elections in the past, but whether the promises made by different parties have been met. Horn, who is leading his party’s campaign in the province, told The Free Stater in a wide-ranging interview that the DA has set its sights on at least four municipalities in the province where it believes the ruling ANC will get less than 50 percent of votes because it has failed to meet its promises of improved service delivery and better lives for residents in those municipalities. Horn is also a member of the National Assembly. Excerpts:

The 2021 local government elections are coming at a time when people are faced with a host of issues including the high unemployment rate, poor service delivery starting at municipal level and rising poverty. Some people have even said they won’t be voting. How are you approaching your election campaign?

Indeed, communities of the Free State face a multitude of challenges in the form of very high unemployment, poverty in many communities and poor service delivery for basic services in several municipalities. I would hope that voters would look at the solutions parties offer in order for them to inform their choices. The reality is that . . . your ballot is still the way to change your circumstances. So, from Democratic Alliance side, we say it’s no coincidence that both the Western Cape province where we are in government and in the municipalities we lead in the country . . . they are distinguished by a number of markers from those we don’t run. For instance, the average unemployment in those municipalities is much lower than the national average. That is because good municipal governance attracts the type of investments that lead to job creation.

There are millions of voters right now who will not vote on November 1 because they don’t see the need because services have remained poor in their communities. How do you convince them to look at things differently?

If municipalities spend public funds in a prudent way, they can alleviate poverty by creating employment opportunities. In the Free State, things like the cleaning of streets and refuse removal have deteriorated. To a large extent, municipalities sit with bloated staff, yet these frontline workers are not included in their staff. So, our offer to voters is to say, in the Free State we can replicate the clean governance we implement in the municipalities we run, and also the type of initiatives that will attract investments. We strongly believe that ultimately, to assist residents of this province, we must get the basics right in terms of service delivery. There must clean water when you turn on the tap, speedy attendance to service delivery issues, maintenance of roads and other infrastructure. Those are the types of things that make a difference to the lives of residents and attract investment. 

But in the municipalities that you run, you have often been accused of focusing on the affluent suburbs and ignoring the townships in terms of service delivery. How do you respond to that?

That’s not correct. In most municipalities in the Free State . . . whatever they receive in terms of capital grants from the national government, they are not necessarily spent on improving infrastructure in the townships. We are saying, if we are in charge of an administration after this year’s election, we will see to it that those Capital Infrastructure Grants are spent on projects that will establish proper infrastructure in the townships as well as their maintenance.

Do you have any particular municipalities in the Free State that you are targeting to take over?

It will be good to bring the ANC below 50 percent in all Free State municipalities. But the Free State is one of the strongholds of the ANC. Based on previous election results, we are of the opinion that in specifically four municipalities . . . if the downward trajectory of the ANC continues and our growth continues, we could bring the ANC below 50 percent and try and form an alternative government. We are looking at Metsimaholo municipality. The ANC failed to reach 50 percent in the 2016 election. We also want Mangaung Metro as well as Moqhaka, Matjhabeng local municipalities. There is a strong chance that the ANC can be brought under 50 percent in those municipalities. Maluti-a-Phofung municipality will also be interesting to watch in the sense that even though the ANC in the last election got in excess of 65 percent, it’s quite clear that the decay and the deterioration of the municipal governance there has resulted in widespread disillusionment. The MAP-16 group could also have a strong showing.

The DA recently had its Free State manifesto launch in Sasolburg. Does that mean you see your highest chances in that area, Metsimaholo municipality?

Yes . . . like I said, the ANC failed to get 50 percent in the last municipal elections. And in that re-run after the municipal council was dissolved, it fell even further to just more than 40 percent. So, the big challenge now for us is that voters should make wise choices. We plead with voters not to subject themselves and us to a situation where we are not strong enough to form an alternative government.

What are the chances of you going into coalition with the EFF, should you fail to get enough votes?

Our message to the EFF is very simple. We have been disillusioned with the way the EFF acted in the past. We had an informal arrangement with them in both Tshwane and Johannesburg. They said they didn’t want to form part of the DA government, but then behind the scenes the EFF called the shots regarding senior appointments as well as the awarding of contracts. From that . . . we unfortunately concluded the EFF could not be distinguished from the ANC when it comes to financial issues within municipalities in the way public funds are being used and abused. Therefore, we will not be going into coalition agreements with them in this election. Voters must take note of their record, where they had influence. They must very carefully consider if the emotional pleas the EFF brings to them is something that can be trusted.

The DA posters in Phoenix, KZN, caused quite a furore in the country as they were deemed racist. Some people were saying it could be difficult for them to trust you with their votes. While the posters have since been removed, how are people receiving you in the Free State?

We can never claim that we live on an island in the Free State, but I can thankfully say that we have not been confronted by many voters either lambasting us about the unhelpful message that was displayed in Phoenix or contacting us to say they were reconsidering their support here in the Free State. I don’t mean it has been a non-issue . . . but given the poor state of municipalities in the province, I think the voters here have their sights on the elections and have realised that local government elections are all about basic service delivery and how you can use your vote to improve your circumstances.

And what’s your overall view about the whole issue surrounding those posters

I don’t think it’s in our best interests to keep regurgitating issues around those posters. As the DA in the Free State, we are satisfied that the correct decision was taken when the posters were removed. However, we shouldn’t be apologetic as South Africans in saying, in dealing with that very complex situation in KZN, we all should stand with everybody who was part of the solution on the side of law and order. 

There is a view that the DA could lose significant votes following the departure of some black leaders under unceremonious circumstances. How are you dealing with that issue?

We are a party that gathers support around principles and values. One of our values is that we strive to build a party and a South Africa that is non-racial . . . which is one of values in the country’s constitution. I don’t think we should only look at the situation on the basis that some leaders have left the party from a racial point of view. The reality is that some white leaders have also left the party. So, to our supporters in the Free State and South Africa, we are saying look at our manifesto . . . look at our values and principles, look at our record where we govern municipalities. We are proud to say to the Free Staters, if you really want to position your municipality in the best possible way to improve basic services and financial management, then you should look strongly in our direction.  

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Ngwathe pays Eskom to fix damaged line

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BLACKOUT . . . The Ngwathe electrical network tripped on Friday and damaged Eskom’s equipment due to overloading

Ngwathe Local Municipality in the northern Free State has paid R1.1-million to Eskom so it can repair damages to the power line in the area caused by overloading.

Eskom provincial spokesperson Stefanie Jansen van Rensburg said in a statement the payment was made on Monday morning and work to restore supplies to Parys and Vredefort has started.

“Repairs to the Eskom equipment will now commence,” said Van Rensburg.

“Based on the assessments of the damage, supply to Ngwathe should be restored by midnight tonight,” she added.

The spokesperson however said the initial repairs were focusing on the hot connections and will only be temporary to assist communities.

Another outage will be scheduled to repair the transformer bushings that were also damaged during the overloading incident.

The Ngwathe electrical network tripped on Friday and damaged Eskom’s equipment due to overloading.

“Since 2018, Eskom has warned Ngwathe that their continued exceedance of their Notified Maximum Demand (NMD) – the contracted amount of electricity supplied by Eskom to the Municipality – will eventually result in damage to the Eskom network and that the municipality needs to apply for an upgrade in their NMD.

“In August 2021 and in April 2022, Eskom informed the municipality that any damage to the Eskom network that is caused by the municipality’s negligence, will be at the municipality’s cost.

“The municipality agreed to this condition and, although they were well informed and aware of the risks, they did not take the necessary precautions or made sufficient efforts to upgrade their NMD,” Van Rensburg explained.

Following the incident, Eskom insisted on the municipality making an upfront payment as it is one of the municipalities in the province sitting with a huge debt to the national power utility.

As at end June, Ngwathe’s overdue debt to Eskom totalled R1.89 billion.

Eskom says this debt continues to grow as current accounts are not paid in full.

“Ngwathe’s non-adherence to payment conditions and negligence in protecting the power system, jeopardises Eskom’s financial sustainability as well as the security of supply to the residents of towns such as Parys and Vredefort.

“Supply to Ngwathe will be restored to the capacity as per the contracted NMD.

“Risks of overloading and consequent damage remain, and it is imperative that the municipality invests in upgrading its supply,” according to the power company. – Staff Reporter

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Mangaung electricity tariffs up

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POWER TARIFFS UP . . . Local power distributor Centlec has hiked electricity charges

Electricity tariffs in Mangaung have gone up by 7.47 percent.

In a statement released on Thursday night, local power distributor Centlec said the increase was due to come into effect at midnight on July 1 following approval by the National Electricity Regulator of South Africa.

The increase will cover the period July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023.

“A guideline increase of 7.47 percent on electricity tariffs for Centlec was therefore approved with effect from the 1st of July 2022 for the 2022/23 financial year,” read part of the brief statement.

It said a more detailed outline of the increases will be announced soon. – Staff Reporter

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CUT students arrested for protesting against exams

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DISTURBANCE AT CAMPUS . . . Five students protesting against exams at the Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein have been arrested

Police have arrested five students from the Central University of Technology (CUT) for public violence after they embarked on an unsanctioned protest against the institution’s decision to have the mid-year exams conducted in person at its two campuses in Bloemfontein and Welkom starting this Thursday.

The exams are set to run until July 20.

The fracas follows an announcement by CUT acting vice-chancellor and principal Professor Alfred Ngowi on Wednesday in which he stated the exams would take place physically at the two campuses as scheduled.

Ngowi said a detailed discussion about online exams at the Welkom campus concluded that it would not be feasible to conduct online exams because circumstances have changed regarding the COVID-19 restrictions and that it was also against the policy of the university.

“CUT is a full-contact institution and not a distance learning institution and therefore does not have the authority to accredit examinations that are not done under CUT’s status as a full-contact institution,” said Ngowin in a recorded video.

Ngowi told the students that academic assessment is one of the important building blocks of their qualifications.

He warned the students against disrupting the exams saying they would face disciplinary action as such action will be illegal.

“The unreliability of the power supply may have unintended disruptive effects,” he said.

“The COVID-19 restrictions which necessitated virtual classes and virtual assessments have all been suspended and the various accrediting bodies to which CUT is affiliated may not accredit online assessments.

“Therefore, we will proceed with physical assessments.

“Management has made all necessary preparations for the smooth running of the mid-year assessments, which have been communicated to all students.

“Therefore, any student who plans to disrupt the physical examinations on our campuses must be aware of the legal and disciplinary consequences.

“In addition, the CUT management has put several measures in place to protect the constitutional rights of all our students who are prepared for and prefer to sit for physical assessments.

“Students must be aware that any disruptions of the planned and scheduled assessments are illegal and unlawful, and students who act outside the law will have to face the consequences of their actions.

“Students further need to note that failing the upcoming academic assessments will directly impact their NSFAS funding status.

“No further funding will be available to NSFAS-funded students who fail the assessments or fail to take the upcoming assessments.”

But, in a statement, members of the South African Student Congress (SASCO) at the university argued that since all assessments had taken place online due to the COVID-19 restrictions, “it is only normal that the exams take place online as well”.

SASCO also argued that some students had not received their allowances from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and it would therefore be impossible for them to write their exams in a physical setting.

But Ngowi addressed the matter earlier in the same video: “As previously communicated through the Student Representative Council, NSFAS-funded students who still have unresolved challenges with their accommodation are encouraged to make written submissions to the relevant faculty deans in that regard.”

Park Road police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Thabo Covane said members of Public Order Police Unit arrested five male students for public violence at the CUT’s Bloemfontein campus on Thursday morning.

He said the group of protesting students was warned by the operational commander to disperse within a given time as they were contravening the conditions stipulated in an issued court order but refused to do so.

“The protesting students became violent and started throwing stones and bottles at the police and the security officers,” said Covane.

“The police used stun grenades to disperse the crowd. The other group ran into King Edward Street and blocked traffic by placing stones on the road.

“Police then arrested the five students with ages ranging from 18 to 22 years.”

The arrested students are expected to appear in the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court on Monday facing charges of public violence and contravening a court order. – Staff Reporter

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