We need answers for when and why self-help is against the law

Law Source: Google Images

It was inevitable, given the appalling mismanagement of so many local municipalities up and down the country, that ratepayers would decide to get together to fix potholes and even fix failing water and sewerage systems.

What flies in the face of common sense, public health, and general safety, is the reaction of municipal officials and their erstwhile elected bosses who have taken to the courts to re-take control of the (now once more functioning) utilities.

It is a general principle of human interaction that if you do not get what you pay for, the law will be on your side. This is not the case when ratepayers find the services they pay for are not delivered – things like fresh, clean water, regular electricity, and an efficient and healthy sewerage disposal system.

In the town of Koster, for example, when ratepayers took over the town’s waterworks when they broke down, and then disputed the council’s right of having another go, so to speak, they were taken to court and lost.

What followed this extraordinary yet lawful decision was some eye-opening statements made to the media by the North West MEC for Cooperative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs, Mmoloki Cwaile, who said, “We cannot allow a situation where the infrastructure is managed and controlled by private people”.

If that was not enough to discourage anyone from daring to get a utility back online when it has collapsed, he went on to say, “We can’t allow the safety of the community of Kgetlengrivier compromised by having the plants controlled by unauthorized people”.

Quite so, but what to do about the safety of a community when those who accept money for rates, electricity, and water, fail to do the job they are paid for?

The Courts have yet to decide on ratepayer rights in such a situation. Instead, what caused the ratepayers of Kgetlengriver to volunteer to help fix the water supply seems to have been ignored and instead of receiving praise, they have been punished.

The dispute in this municipality is rather more complicated and involves non-payment for work done, but from a common-sense point of view, it appears to be a case of forcing those who fixed the broken waterworks to give it back to those who broke it.

We need answers for when and why self-help is against the law.

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