Special Report | The anatomy of a failed municipality


Special Report | The anatomy of a failed municipality

The electricity is off for weeks at a time. The place is drowning in refuse and sewage. Babies die in incubators. In Komani (the old Queenstown), a decade-long municipal crisis has come to a head. ANNELIESE BURGESS tracks the collapse to where it all began and says if you understand what is happening in Komani, you will understand what is happening in South Africa. And you will also understand how the misery of a failed municipality can inspire united action across racial and political divides.

KOMANI is not the most depressing town I have ever been to in the Eastern Cape (that prize I give to Middelburg, Molteno and Jamestown). Here, in the old Queenstown, some things are still functional. Some excellent schools, an industrial area with factories that create thousands of jobs and a humming CBD that is the economic heartbeat of the greater Chris Hani district that includes towns such as Cradock, Middelburg, Tarkastad, Molteno, Hofmeyer, Cacadu, Dordrecht, Indwe, Cofimvaba, Tsomo, Cala, Khowa and Engcobo.

If you were to drive through Toptown on a summer Saturday, as I did recently, you could be excused for thinking that the beautiful old houses and gardens, the tidy sidewalks and the impressive buildings and manicured sports fields of Queen’s College and Girls’ High were indicators of a flourishing rural town.

But then you drive past Hoërskool Hangklip (the Afrikaans school clearly has less money than the old English schools), past the Frontier Hospital's crumbling entrance, past the beautiful old library with vomiting rubbish bins, past the old city hall gutted by fire. With every street block, the schizophrenic reality of this town becomes more and more apparent: private citizens with the means are trying to keep things together, but everything that is the remit of the local government is falling apart. Komani is the municipal version of a failed state...

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