Interview: Sibusiso Mahlangu

Sibusiso Mahlangu, Manager: Planning and Integrated Development Planning at iLembe District Municipality, one of three municipal partners of the programme, shares his insights on working with Vuthela.

You have a very long association with the Vuthela Programme since its early planning and initiation in 2015. What would you say have been the main benefits of the programme for the iLembe District Municipality that have or will contribute towards an improved business enabling environment?

I’ve been closely associated with the Vuthela Programme since its inception. I was co-opted in 2018 for three months and since October 2021, I have been part of the Project Management Team (PMT) along with representatives from the local municipalities of KwaDukuza and Mandeni.

I see the main benefits as the following:

  • Reducing Non-Revenue Water (NRW): Efforts towards decreasing NRW have resulted in a grant allocation that will be transferred to the iLembe District Municipality to undertake the procurement and implementation of the project internally. Ultimately, we intend to maximise revenue through practical solutions, and infrastructure investment can be streamlined for greater economic diversification necessary to sustain the region’s current growth.
  • The Development Charges Policy was prepared and finalised through the Vuthela Programme. The policy’s premise is based on an equitable and sustainable model for providing infrastructure to promote economic growth.
  • The iLembe District Municipality has benefitted from the development of a single indigent register for the family of municipalities to consider the socio-economic and other conditions, such as unemployment and poverty. Municipalities must keep a register of people in need who require free water and other basic services. Without a credible register of indigent people, municipalities will be spending on free basic services that they cannot account for or producing bills for accounts that will never be paid.
  • Asset management, in general, has received particular attention regarding establishing standardised policies and processes. However, introducing the integrated asset infrastructure management information systems (EDAMS) will be a “game changer” for iLembe District Municipality, particularly to support activities to reduce infrastructure constraints and complement infrastructure planning.
  • The substantial focus on skills development was instrumental in changing the mindset of officials and political office bearers. In addition, several of the training offerings are accredited, which significantly impacts the team’s overall morale by empowering their personal goals while equipping them with the tools to perform the task at hand.

What have been the key strengths of the programme?

The Vuthela offices were located within the iLembe District Municipality, specifically in the CBD of KwaDukuza, which proved valuable for the overall interaction, ownership and access of the component experts.

The inception phase was fundamental in adapting and ensuring the programme was tailored to the participating municipalities and influenced by the 43 projects that were identified.

Good institutional arrangements and policy framework for managing the programme contributed to its success. The involvement, particularly of the accounting officers and mayors, with assigned roles and responsibilities of the relevant institutional structures and signatory authority guided by the policies put in place, also resulted in positive outcomes for the Vuthela Programme.

Project document management, together with the programme, organisation and administration, at times possibly overlooked in other programmes, was exceptional, transparent, and proved helpful.

What have been the weaknesses of the programme and how do you think this has been addressed?

Social media presence was relatively slow in the programme’s initial phases but has since gained momentum, especially with the Vuthela Spark newsletter introduction and updating of the website, which aided in reaching a broader spectrum of readers.

Were the programme to be replicated in some form elsewhere, what changes would you make to the programme? What have been the key learnings from the programme experience?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Before implementing a similar programme in another municipal district, the dynamics of the region must be considered. The local context must be considered when coming up with interventions to achieve the desired outcomes.

The Vuthela Programme has been hosting thematic seminars which proved extremely useful in getting insight from external stakeholders and providing a neutral setting for matters to be deliberated on. I would recommend that in implementing a similar programme that these seminars be included in the inception phase.