When will Stellenbosch stand up and say ‘enough is enough’?

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(A summary of this article was published in Eikestadnuus on 4 December 2009)

How bad must things get before the citizens of Stellenbosch stand up together and say ‘enough is enough’? Our town is literally collapsing before our eyes, and yet we go about our business hoping that political leaders from on high will step in, or some expert has the solution.

We all know that things are not right with our Municipality. Accusations of corruption have appeared in the press; four of the top Directors have resigned (plus some key officials lower down in the bureaucracy); the ANC has recalled the Deputy Mayor from  his position (although he is still on the Mayco);  the Mayor has been stripped of his powers; small parties and independents are reconsidering their alliances; and some reports suggest that the Municipal Manager needs extra security to protect him from threats (made by whom? we can only ask, or imagine because no specifics are provided).

While the core group of political leaders and officials who should be running this town rip each other apart, the infrastructure we depend on for our daily lives is collapsing. Worst still, service delivery for the poor is suffering, thus making worse the lives of the homeless. The exciting Stellenbosch land reform project for which National Government committed over R10 million has stalled. But still no protests? Why are we so passive?

It is a proven fact that our landfill site is full. In fact, it has been so badly managed for over a decade now that it is actually illegal. Not long ago the Department of Environmental Affairs threatened to close it down, thus forcing Stellenbosch to pay huge amounts of money to transport the waste to other landfills in the Western Cape (assuming they would accept our waste). Similarly, our sewage treatment plants in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are full and although there are lots of consultant’s reports on what to do, nothing in practice is happening fast to resolve the problem. Even if something was done, the reports all propose spending money using old fashioned technologies that make it impossible to recycle and re-use the sewage for productive purposes. Our water supplies are threatened with no long-term plan in place to resolve the problem – some time between 2013 and 2017 Stellenbosch will run out of water if nothing changes to use water more efficiently and  recycle our sewage.

Our rivers are so polluted, that if the research results get out fruit and wine exports from this region will cease immediately. A protest movement against pesticide sprays that poison us all was launched last week by The Air That We Breathe Foundation – over 100 people attended the founding meeting representing the complete cross-spectrum, include rich suburbanites and poor farm workers who actually bear the brunt of the poisoning that takes place on the farms. Ironically, property developers market developments in vineyards that are sprayed so heavily with organo phosphates that property owners suffer long-term damage to their health, especially children who are more vulnerable. And all this to produce a crop that will become increasingly difficult to export because of the gradual international resistance to toxic sprays.

Our energy supply has effectively been capped because of the national energy shortage , and this will get worse as the economy picks up. Already permissions are being refused to people who need more supply to extend their business operations or build new settlements. And all this without any significant action by the big users to substantially reduce consumption, and with no programme to replace electric geyers with solar hot water heaters – an action that creates hundreds of jobs.

Quite a number of businesses are making plans to shut down their Stellenbosch operations, especially those in the wine and food business because they fear damage to the reputations being in a polluted badly managed town. Others who thought of locating here have given up on Stellenbosch as a basket case – no-one at the Municipality even bothers to return their phone calls. This means jobs lost.

Two Council meetings have been postponed where a No Confidence vote in the Mayor and Deputy Mayor was going to be tabled by the DA – this meeting will now happen in January. Whether the DA or the ANC rules, the challenges will be the same.

There is one hope: the draft Spatial Development Framework  (SDF) maps out a sustainable future.Compiled by the firm CNDv from Cape Townon behalf of the Municipality, this builds on the Sustainable Human Settlement Strategy that was adopted by the Council earlier this year. Together this documents provide the most ambitious and far-reaching conception of how to build a sustainable South African town that has ever been compiled since the dawn of democracy in 1994. These documents link spatial planning, settlement planning and  infrastructure investments in ways that will make Stellenbosch a globally renowned sustainability destination and innovation hub. Unfortunately, with the Municipality in political and administrative disarray, it is highly unlikely that the SDF will become the guiding document for a united  multi-party vision for the future.

Maybe it is time for civil society, the University and business to take the initiative. Maybe we need a Stakeholder Forum with a single purpose – to Save Stellenbosch, to put Stellenbosch First. Unless civil society, business and the University come together, Stellenbosch will slide ever deeper into trouble, thus betraying its promise to provide a better more sustainable future for all its citizens, in particular the poor.  Its time Stellenbosch stood up for and said “enough is enough, put Stellenbosch First”. Maybe it is time for a broad stakeholder forum to develop its own set of development proposals for how to build Stellenbosch as a sustainable town.