The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) notes the State of the Nation Address (SONA) as presented by President Cyril Ramaphosa on the 11th February 2021. This year’s SONA is symbolic in that it was delivered exactly 31 years since the release of former President Nelson Mandela from the Victor Verster prison.
This address was also delivered at a time when the country and the whole world is fighting the Coronavirus which has affected millions globally while in South Africa alone, over a million cumulated cases, have been recorded and further claiming the lives of over 45 000 South Africans. We once more send our heartfelt condolences and sympathies to the families who have lost their loved ones, we further wish speedy recovery to those that are still battling with this deadly virus.
We appreciate and welcome the commitment by the President that top government priorities would be waging war against the virus, economic recovery, implementation of economic reforms that are target at sustainable jobs and inclusive growth and fighting corruption in all spheres of the state. We are however concerned the announcement on “job opportunities” will not solve the unemployment challenges in the country but rather add more workers to precarious forms of employment.
On the fight against Covid-19
We note that the country is currently experiencing a second wave of the virus with experts warning of a third wave which we may experience in or around June of this year, this coupled with the fact there is a new variant of the virus discovered in the country. We are however encouraged by government’s actions to precure millions of vaccines for all South Africans.
As SAMWU we are particularly pleased with the fact that municipal workers have been categorized as one of the first groups of people who will be receiving the vaccines. The high numbers of infections and deaths in the local government sector is alarming and of great concern to us.
As announced by the President, no individual will be forced to be vaccinated or denied travel of government services because they have not been vaccinated. In as much as vaccination is not compulsory, we encourage all South Africans, in particular, municipal to be vaccinated.
Despite the fact that the vaccination programme will be rolled out soon, we encourage all South Africans to not let their guard down but rather continue adhering to all the regulations of the Disaster Management Act, including the wearing of masks, constant sanitization and social distancing. Working together, we can all reduce the spread of this virus.
Covid-19 has caused great economic havoc not only in the country but globally. This has led to many companies across different industries closing down and as many as 1.7 million South Africans losing their jobs. Cautiously note and welcome the fact that the President has announced that his government will prioritize economic recovery and implementations of reforms which are targeted at creating sustainable jobs.
On the state of municipalities
We note with anger and great agitation the announcement by the President that as part of economic recovery process, government has begun a process of recruiting 180 000 workers for “job opportunities” in the local government sector. As a trade union, we always get excited when we hear news of municipalities employing people directly. In this case, we are however greatly angered by the nature and the precarity of these “job opportunities as announced.
As SAMWU, we are opposed to this announcement because we know its nature. The President was actually announcing that government intends on continuing recruiting a further 180 000 Extended Public Works (EPWP) programmes throughout all municipalities. We would have loved to hear the President announce that municipalities would be told to fill vacancies which are alarmingly at a high rate which is 35%.
This announcement contradicts the President’s announcement in the same address that government intents on prioritizing “sustainable job”. EPWP and related programmes are not job creation programmes but rather they are exploitative in nature and conveyors of cheap labour for municipalities. Participants in these programmes are never absorbed by municipalities but are constantly recycled while receiving peanuts for doing permanent functions of municipalities.
The recently held SAMWU 12th National Congress resolved that EPWP participants provide permanent functions of municipalities and as such they should be employed permanently and directly by municipalities. If government is serious about economic recovery, sustainable jobs and the general wellbeing of South Africans, all participants of EPWP and similar programmes should be scrapped and these participants employed permanently and directly by municipalities with the same benefits currently enjoyed by municipal workers.
We note and welcome the fact that the government appreciates challenges faced by municipalities, particularly financial challenges. Most of these challenges have been religiously repeated by Auditor General reports into municipalities. This includes the debt owed by municipalities to both Eskom and Water Boards which run into millions, corruption, privatization of municipal services and the general lack of accountability or consequence management and the mismanagement of the much-needed municipal resources.
The President however failed to announce steps or measures that would be taken to ensure that municipal financial challenges are addressed and corrected. Instead, he resorted to calling municipal workers incompetent and under-qualified forgetting the unqualified and incompetent individuals are those deployed by the political party he leads. These are the very same people who are on a constant crusade to collapse municipalities. It is therefore self-serving and provocative of the President to attack municipal workers in this manner while he has intimate knowledge of the root causes of municipalities.
As the Finance Minister prepares to deliver his budget speech in a few days, we expect the Minister to tell the nation how the financial state of municipalities will be salvaged. The only way that municipalities be salvaged is through a better funding of municipalities through equitable share. For municipalities to continue delivering quality and continuous services to South Africans, there needs to be a general review of the municipal funding model, including ensuring that recommendations of the Auditor General are adhered to.
Issued by SAMWU Secretariat
Deputy General Secretary
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National Media Officer
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