Sipho Mabena

By Sipho Mabena

Premium Journalist

Why Covid-19 could hit us very hard

South Africa will pay a heavy price for government neglect, corruption and mismanagement as the coronavirus – which has now infiltrated townships – continues on its path of destruction, says an expert.

As the deadly Covid-19 virus takes a firm grip of South Africa, experts say the consequences of government’s decades of service delivery failures – blamed on corruption, neglect and mismanagement – were beginning to show.

More than two decades into democracy, many areas were without running water, electricity, proper housing and infrastructure, which Dr Sithembile Mbete, a lecturer in the University of Pretoria’s political sciences department, said would render efforts to fight Covid-19 futile.

“We are already seeing the consequences of poor service delivery and mismanagement in the difficulty government is now facing in implementing the lockdown and creating a conducive environment to deal with Covid-19,” she said.

Mbete, an expert on local politics and international issues, said the crisis exposed local government as the weakest link of the governance chain.

She said the Disaster Management Act was a Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) law and that the national state of disaster was managed by Cogta, but mostly executed by municipalities.

However, Mbete lamented the fact that the majority of municipalities were completely ill-equipped to execute this task as they did not have the basic administrative capacity.

She said government has had to scramble to provide water because of the advent of the pandemic currently sweeping across the world, and the slow and inadequate provision of housing has contributed to the mushrooming of informal settlements.

Sitjwetla informal settlement in Alexandra in Johannesburg, 31 March 2020, were five people were put under quarantine after being in close contact with a confirmed case in the township. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

These settlements are now the highest risk areas for a coronavirus outbreak.

“It is interesting that we’ve seen government rush to provide tanks and investigate options to de-densify informal settlements. This shows that the ability to provide services has been there. It just hasn’t happened because of corruption, political interests and incompetence,” Mbete said.

Data analytics firm Municipal IQ highlighted this in January, finding that service delivery protests against municipalities had doubled from 107 in 2009, to 218 in 2019.

Mbete said only time would tell whether this marked a decisive shift in government performance.

Successive interventions to stabilise local government announced in previous State of the Nation addresses have achieved nothing, with the number of municipalities in financial distress doubling from 64 to 125 in the past decade.

The number of municipalities disestablished in the same period is 26, reducing municipalities from 283 to 257. Since October 2016, 24 municipalities have been placed under administration.

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