‘Municipalities struggle to perform environmental management mandate’

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A Local Government Environment Indaba held on Gauteng’s East Rand has heard how municipalities struggle to perform their environmental management mandate. Many of them struggle to collect waste in communities, and enforce by-laws to curb illegal dumping, especially in the City centres.

Municipalities have a Constitutional mandate to promote a safe and healthy environment as they are the sphere of government that is closer to communities.

In his 2023 State of the Nation Address, President Cyril Ramaphosa bemoaned the state of the majority of municipalities in the country. Out of a total of 257 municipalities — 163 are dysfunctional or in distress due to poor governance, ineffective management, and poor service delivery.

Deputy Minister in the Department of Forestry Fisheries and Environment, Maggie Sotyu, says many municipalities are struggling to carry out their environmental management functions.

“Some municipalities are running out of landfill space to dispose off their waste. Provincial Environment Departments have to address these challenges. They are not here; they won’t know about these challenges. There are many waste management challenges often leading to protests in our communities. These range from lack of adequate staffing for waste management, development of integrated waste management plans, waste collection, management of waste disposal facilities, lack of programmes for waste diversion and inadequate funding of waste function. These are real, real challenges we are faced with.”

Municipal watchdog, SALGA, says some of the challenges include a lack of capacity, financial and human resources challenges, among others. SALGA president, Bheki Stofile, says the resources are there, but they are not equally distributed.

“It is prudent to have your best waste management and air quality management expertise in provincial and national departments, when the function has to be performed at local government at the end of the day. So what I am saying is that as much as you might have these high quality and capable individuals at national and sub-national levels, if such high quality level and understanding is not happening in local government is of no use.”

Waste Management Strategy 2020

Sotyu says during her department’s intervention in municipalities they’ve discovered that many have challenges in implementing the Waste Management Strategy 2020. And that they might have to conduct training where needed.

The strategy envisages a future South Africa, where there is reduced waste destined for landfills, cleaner communities, well managed and financially stable waste services, and a culture of zero tolerance of pollution, littering and illegal dumping, which she is not been dealt with.

“When it comes to the enforcement of the by-laws is zero. I have been to many municipalities that one is zero. We went to one of the small dorpies with my DDGs. We had to literally clean the town. But when you look around there are shops around this dirty environment. I can remember one of the bottle stores. There was a pile of broken bottles in front of the bottle store, and you ask yourself what about the by-laws.”

The executive mayor of City of Ekurhuleni, Tania Campbell, says her municipality is making great strides with regards to some of their environmental and waste management initiatives. These includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and waste disposal at landfill sites.

“We own and operate five landfill sites, four of them we extract gas to use for energy production. As we are moving into Energy Renewal we have appointed 47 Independent Power Producers which will help stabilise the City’s power supply whilst reducing our emissions.”

The Indaba ends on Friday.

Securing communities against natural disasters tops the Environmental Indaba agenda: