Push for Midlands Metro

uMgungundlovu is muscling up to make it as a metro municipality before the next local government elections.

The district municipality may have failed to attain the status of a category A (metro) municipality ahead of the 2016 local government elections, but it is undeterred in its aspirations.

District manager Dr Ray Ngcobo has been tasked with uniting seven local municipalities into one overarching metro ahead of the 2021 local government elections.

One of the many challenges facing a metro would be how to start levying rates from residents on Ingonyama Trust land, who do not pay municipal rates at the moment but who would have to contribute to the financial viability of the metro.

Ngcobo conceded that the district was not ready to become a metro in the wake of the 2011 elections, but believes it is now. He said regional integration is inevitable even if the municipality is not yet a metro.

“There is already some economic integration. People from other municipalities, like uMngeni for example, are descending to Msunduzi on [a] daily basis because that is where they work or conduct business,” he said.

Pietermaritzburg is the economic hub of the region and 70% of the district’s economy is in Msunduzi Municipality. Ngcobo said the only people who might not be in favour of regional integration are those who are “territorial” because they feel they will lose the influence they have now once the seven municipalities merge.

The managers for the local municipalities have been meeting regularly with Ngcobo, under the banner of a municipal managers’ forum, to discuss long-term economic integration and the metro.

They have appointed several experts to advise them on their reports to be submitted to the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB).

The board is expected to open for proposals in the lead-up to the 2021 local government elections.

While Ngcobo would not be drawn into giving the names of the experts, he said they include people who have worked with the MDB and some are from Germany. “They are advising us on issues of urbanism and urbanisation because that is one of the prerequisites that you need to prove to the demarcation board.

“Our submissions also have to show that you will be able to run a viable entity, that there will be integration, that we’ve high impact catalytic projects, that we’ve got enough population figures and a mechanism to deal with urban dynamics,” he said.

The teams are also looking into issues of spatial planning, economic and institutional integration as well as how the metro can leverage off the corridors such as the N3 and R56.

Ngcobo said it is a myth that some municipalities, like iMpendle, have no economic activities needed to boost the proposed metro.

“There is milk processing, pasteurisation and also a bit of forestry and tourism in iMpendle. Most of the tourists who are travelling to Underberg go through iMpendle,” he said.

The financial viability of the metro would be mostly dependent on rates because some of the areas that are currently not rated will start paying rates.

Ngcobo said with an integrated municipal system people will be willing to pay because there will be improved efficiency of delivery of services.

Parts of uMgungundlovu that are not rated include land administered by the Ingonyama Trust, such as Vulindlela.

Ngcobo said there is a possibility that the Ingonyama Trust Act would be amended by the time the district becomes a metro, which could see some areas under it being rated as well.

“Even without looking at the Ingonyama Trust there is quite a lot of modernity that you see in other areas that are currently not rated. You just have to look at the type of houses people are building.”

Ngcobo said there might be high levels of poverty in some areas but there are still those who are able to invest in assets such as property and also pay rates. Capacity building to efficiently deliver services and collect revenue will be prioritised when the district becomes a metro. This will be done with the assistance of national government.

“I’m of the view that the reason why some municipalities are failing to collect rates is largely as a result of their own inefficiencies. It’s not because people are not willing to pay,” he said.

Ngcobo said managers of local municipalities are co-ordinating work groups looking into governance systems, infrastructure, and spatial planning and development.

“We’ve also commissioned work on the metro spatial development framework which will be the basis for the redetermination of boundaries. We will then start focusing on the integration of financial systems,” he said.

Local district ‘not ready’ 

The envisioned uMgungundlovu metro may struggle with revenue collection and supporting rural towns if the district pushes to unite all its seven local municipalities.

This is the view of the former chairperson of the Municipal Demarcation Board, Dr Michael Sutcliffe, who also spent almost a decade as the City manager of eThekwini metro.

The founder of City Insight, an organisation that specialises in strategic planning and management in all tiers of government, Sutcliffe said uMgungundlovu should consider leaving some of the mostly rural and grant-dependent municipalities out of the proposed metro.

He said the issue comes down to the Municipal Structures Act, which dictates that a metro should be an area of high density and high economic concentration. He said there is a strong argument that Msunduzi with uMngeni and another municipality should be incorporated into a metro.

“To include the whole of uMgungundlovu means that you are going to be settled with a massive area and that could result in numerous challenges in terms of capability.

“You must remember that the demarcation board has to look at whether there is administrative and financial capability before granting the metro status,” said Sutcliffe.

He cited Tshwane as having suffered a financial setback of about R6 billion when it amalgamated with struggling municipalities in 2011.

He said he is in no way trying to discourage uMgungundlovu from pursuing metro status, but history shows that when you incorporate such a large area, which is mostly rural and has little economic activity, you are most likely to end up carrying a heavier financial burden.

Sutcliffe believes that being a category A municipality should be more about improving service delivery and efficiency of the administration than being in charge of a bigger area.

“It takes a lot of work to be a financially viable municipality but it is possible if you have capacitated your administration and councillors because everyone knows what is expected of them.”

District manager Dr Ray Ngcobo is more optimistic about uMgungundlovu obtaining a metro status, saying it is in the better position than Buffalo City or Mangaung when they were combined to form metros.

“I think if you compare Mangaung and East London [Buffalo City] with just Msunduzi, Msunduzi would have made a metro even in 2012,” he said.

Ngcobo believes there are clear economic justifications for the district to be ranked as a metro, as it has a strong farming economy like Bloemfontein and East London.

“The equitable share that will come from the metro will also be much better than what we have at the moment. So then you will be able to put infrastructure in the peripheral areas like Richmond. You will build houses within the corridors. You will put roads and all urban design issues that we are currently investigating,” said Ngcobo.

Local government is entitled to an equitable share of revenue raised nationally to enable municipalities to provide basic services to poor households, and to enable municipalities with limited own resources to afford basic administrative and governance capacity and perform core municipal functions.

Population

Msunduzi 621 792

uMshwati 106 388

uMngeni 93 859

Mkhambathini 54 933

Richmond 65 540

Mooi-Mpofana 34 912

Impendle 30 381

Umgungunlovu, which has declared itself as the “ninth metro in the making” on its website, failed to meet the Category A demarcation requirements in 2013.

The Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) found that its proposal did not comply with the criteria for categorisation of category municipalities as set out in the Municipal Structures Act (MSA).

Currently KwaZulu-Natal only has one category A municipality, which is eThekwini.

In 2015 there were reports of a proposal for Richards Bay’s uMhlathuze to be merged with Nkandla, Mbonambi, uMlalazi and Mthonjaneni, but that has not happened.

MDB’s Lucia Mhlanga said in terms of the act an area can be declared as a metropolitan if it can reasonably be regarded as a conurbation with futures such as areas of high density and extensive development. She said it must also have multiple business districts and industrial areas as well as an intense movement of people, goods and services.

Mhlanga added that for the district municipality to be considered for a metro status it must be viewed as “a centre of economic activity with a complex and diverse economy and a single area for which integrated development planning is desirable”.