What is truly at stake in politics? One would think after centuries of colonial rule, decades of apartheid and 27 years into democracy, those entrusted to govern would endeavour ever more tenaciously to uphold their oaths of office and protect the rights of citizens to a good quality of life.

However, the chaos that was the first sitting of this year’s Johannesburg City Council was a stark wake up call to remind us that the strategies used to collapse council sittings are nothing but spectacles of deceit, ambition, and rank opportunism.

Many of us watched in total shock, and dismay as fellow councillors wreaked havoc in the chamber, jumping up and down, howling at presiding officers and blocking officials from doing their work. Through it all I kept thinking “oh my goodness” is this how we have been governed all along? Is this how politicians get to play ping pong with citizens’ lives? Is this how our hard-earned taxes are being wasted?

Then I began to do the maths. An ordinary PR councillor in the City of Johannesburg earns about R500 000 per annum. Members of the Mayoral Committee (MMCs) earn just over R1 000 000, and the Executive Mayor about R1 400 000 per annum respectively. In addition to annual salary packages, these officials of the City can also expect a number of other benefits such as car and travel allowance, cell phone allowance of about R3400, and R300 data bundles per month, including ordinary PR and ward councillors.

This means that the Executive Mayor earns about R116 667 per month; R26 923 per week; R5384.62 per day and R673.08 per hour. The Speaker of Council earns about R1 134 108 per annum; R94 509 per month; R21 810 per week; R4361.95 per day and R545.24 per hour. The 10 MMCs in the City of Johannesburg average an annual salary of about R1 068 312. That’s R89 026 per month; R20 544 per week; R4 108.89 per day and R513. 61 per hour. While ordinary councillors gross of about R500 000 per annum amounts to R41 667 per month; R9615 per week; R1923.08 per day and R240.38 per hour.

Combined calculated payable incomes of these officials per day amounts to about R548 913.19 per day. It is important to note here that other officials such as the Secretary of Council, attorneys, protocol, and cleaning staff are not included in the abovementioned costs. Not to mention catering that includes breakfast, tea, and coffee throughout the day as well as a full lunch for almost 300 people. Read together, citizens easily pay up to about R800 000 per Council sitting, which effectively was wasted last Thursday. Alas! we will spend another R800 000 tomorrow for the sitting scheduled to rescue last Thursday’s agenda.
Imagine a meeting agenda that should effectively not take up more than 5 to 6 hours to conclude but instead takes almost 11 hours, without being finalised.

Instead of prioritising the pressing need for improved service delivery for the residents of Johannesburg, our elected officials, it would seem chose to play politics and collapse council meetings all because they could not get their way. They chanted struggle songs for 5 straight hours while pushing, shoving, and intimidating non-participating councillors all over the Council Chamber. It was scary to witness the scuffling where MMC Michael Sun was literally physically threated and where the Executive Mayor, Dr Mpho Phalatse got involved in a scuffle for the microphone.

Worse still, the leader of the ANC caucus, Councillor Mpho Moerane nobly stood up before the mayhem to demand that Covid-19 protocols be observed throughout the two separate chambers to allow for 50 per cent occupancy in accordance with the regulations. Yet, minutes later proceeded to cheer his peers on as they deliberately continued to disrupt the meeting, sticking their faces in opposing councillors’ faces and pushing against officials to prevent them from doing their work.

As I looked on in absolute horror at time wasted and the business of the day not being concluded, all I thought about were the residents of Johannesburg and others all over the country as I imagined this chaos taking place across South Africa’s 278 municipalities, and on multiple occasions.

To imagine that each municipality is potentially wasting about R800 000 per day playing politics to the tune of almost R222 400 000 is atrocious. If only residents knew!

It is fashionable today to think of politics as a dirty game. Which simply means that citizens are rendered powerless against the might of politicians over their lives. If the low turnout of the 2021 local government elections were not a wake-up call to the dangers facing South Africa’s democracy, then we are in an even deeper swamp than we imagine.

We have all witnessed that it has become trendy in our country today for ministers, former presidents, and influential political leaders alike to impudently condemn well established rules and processes and more importantly the Supreme Law of the Land. When these rules and the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa are used to test allegations of wrongdoing by politicians and they win, they are celebrated. But conversely, when it proves their wrongdoing and they lose, then they are deemed to impede progress.

Ironically, and lest we forget, it is these same people who participated in the drafting of these rules and the very Constitution they are now criticising.

Lerato Ngobeni is ActionSA National Spokesperson and Cllr in the City of Johannesburg