KwaZulu Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala

SANDILE MOTHA

RURAL municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal are now carrying the brunt of the novel coronavirus with an increasing number of them forced to close their doors as more staff and councillors tested positive for COVID-19.

Mthonjaneni municipality in Melmoth under King Cetshwayo District is the latest to announce closer after 19 municipal employees were infected with the virus.

The number of affected people includes security personnel, admin staff political bearers and councillors.

There are fears that the virus might have been transmitted to other communities being serviced by the community.

The dire situation has also been highlighted by the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) in the province, who say the recent developments has forced rural municipalities into a tight corner.

“We are extremely worried and concerned about these developments. Municipalities are a coalface of government and service delivery and councillors has never had any lockdown, they’ve worked throughout. When they are affected, crucial services to communities ground to a halt,” Nonhle Mkhulisi, SALGA provincial chairperson told Inside Metros.

She said despite measures put in place to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, safety of municipal employees and councillors cannot be guaranteed.

“Municipal workers are facing the virus head on because they interact directly with the communities. Councillors have to also engage the public directly managing food relief programmes and other crucial services. So in in this instance, nobody can be 100% safe,” said Mkhulisi.

Other municipalities hardest hit by the spread of COVID-19 include Mandeni local municipality, Ulundi and Dannhauser local municipality. Notably all the municipalities are on the northern KZN region. 

Recently, Ulundi municipality raised eyebrows when it confirmed that it had roped in the services of private provider Lancet Laboratories to assist it to conduct COVID-19 tests, complaining that the provincial department of health was slow in its work leading to unprecedented backlog in testing.

Municipal mayor Wilson Ntshangase said the effect of the virus has forced the municipality to take unpopular decision such as  switching off unpaying citizens from the electricity grid.

“As it stands, residents owe more than R100 million in electricity bill. So the situation is desperate and we have to come up with measures that will enable us to continue rendering services to residents,” said Ntshangase. 

(Compiled by Inside Politics staff)

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