Legal history was made earlier this week when a community group became the first in South Africa to obtain a court order against a provincial executive to compel them to comply with their constitutional obligations to intervene into the affairs of a municipality.
In a nutshell that means that provincial government must now step up and take an in-depth look into the matters of Emalahleni Local Municipality.
They have until Friday, October 12 to do so.
The Save Emalahleni Action Group left the High Court in Middelburg exhausted but very satisfied with the court ruling on Tuesday, October 9 handed down by Judge Rene Tolmay.
This order brings to an end an epic sage which started in February last year when Eskom started implementing bulk electricity interruptions after empty promises from the municipality to settle ever growing debt.
The Save Emalahleni Group stepped in and after hours of consultations, meetings and late nights compiling the necessary paperwork they successfully stopped Eskom from flicking the switch.
Soon afterwards on October 16 they directed a letter of demand to all spheres of government in terms whereof they demanded that the provincial and national executives intervene into the affairs of the local municipality who at that stage was drowning in their Eskom debt.
“The intervention demand was followed up on October 18 by a comprehensive submission on behalf of the community to Eskom urging Eskom not to implement bulk electricity interruptions to the municipality,” Mr Johan Coetzee, local attorney who steers the community group said.
In December an interdict was obtained preventing Eskom from implementing bulk electricity interruptions to the municipality. Residents and businesses let out a sigh of relief.
By then there was no response from either provincial or national executives indicating that they are taking the matter serious.
“The provincial and national executives failed to respond to our letter of demand, which left Save Emalahleni with no option but to issue an application against all spheres of government compelling them to intervene into the affairs of the municipality as provided for in Section 139(5) of the Constitution,” Coetzee said.
Then at last some reaction, the two executives opposed the community group’s application that was enrolled for hearing this past week.
“Up and until the eve of the hearing of this application the municipality persisted that there is no crisis in their financial affairs, and that they are able to pay their creditors as and when it becomes due. On September 28 the municipality capitulated in dramatic fashion through the submissions of their legal team, wherein they openly conceded that there is indeed a serious crisis in their financial affairs and consented to a mandatory intervention by the provincial executive.”
The provincial executive’s first step is to request the Municipal Financial Recovery Service, which is a division of treasury, to commence with the preparation of a recovery plan.
This recovery plan must be prepared and submitted within 90 days.
“We embrace the court’s judgement. It will make it possible for the municipality to proceed with drafting the financial recovery plan, which will assist to restore the financial health of the municipality. The provincial government had an obligation to guide and advice in the drafting and implementation of the plan. We are positive that we will recover and move away from this uncertain situation,” Mr Kingdom Mabuza municipal spokesperson said.