The state and sustainability of cities/towns in the Garden Route survey indicate that Garden Route Cities and Towns – are in Decay

A landmark survey on the economic sustainability of coastal metropoles in South Africa has revealed that most inner-city districts have manifested rapid decline in the past 20 years.

In his doctoral thesis on inner-city turnaround and economic and tourism development, Dr Hendrik Conradie of the Conradie Research Institute, says that most historic inner-city districts of large South African cities and towns which had been economically viable and attractive to local and international tourists two decades ago, are now manifesting signs of severe decay.

“Inner-city decay manifests itself in elements such as problematic and run-down buildings, poor waste management, increased criminality, inadequate law enforcement, ineffectual municipal service delivery, social ills and a deteriorating built environment,” says Conradie.

Within in the context of Conradie’s national study, Dr Dennis Farrell of the Business Café recently initiated a survey focusing on the “State of Garden Route Cities and Towns”. A total of 980 respondents took part in the survey which confirmed widespread perceptions of alarming signs of decay in cities and towns along the Garden Route. (Attached Annexure A as an overview) “It is significant that about 20% of the respondents have lived in the Garden Route for a period of 5 to 10 years, while about 56% have lived here for longer than 10 years,” says Farrell.

“George (34,7%), Knysna (28,7%) and Bitou (27,8%) made up the bulk of the respondents. The remainder came from Mossel Bay (5,4%), Hessequa (2,2%), Oudtshoorn (0,7%) and Kannaland (0,2%). Although these are low response percentages – the trend is the same as that of the larger response cities,” he says.

“I’d like to thank all those who participated in the survey for expressing their concerns as well as some compliments in the open-ended questions. We received up to 469 comments on a question, which now need to be analysed and categorised to identify key trends.

“I wish to emphasise that the survey should not be seen as an attack on any political party or municipality but rather to help gauge the perceptions of residents and to work together to become part of the solution to reverse the perceived decay,” he says.

Respondents indicated that 55,6% of political leadership and 50,8% municipal management were rated as being inadequate to provide sustainable services to residents. Although 61% indicated that they will re appoint municipal leadership and management. To this question there are On the political front, participants seem to be losing confidence in the political parties/ system. About 37% of the respondents indicated that they would not vote for the same party in the 2024 national and provincial election, while about 14% were not sure of voting
for the same party. In terms of the 2026 municipal election, about 36% said they would not vote for the same party while about 17% were not sure.

In response to the question “Are you aware of any alleged misconduct, illicit or corrupt practices within your council or municipality?” about 53% indicated yes with 239 comments. About 46% felt their municipality was ‘not financially sound’.

About 40% reported a nett salary of less than R25 000 per month. About 16% said their municipal rates account constituted more than 21% of their nett salary, while about 54% said their municipal rates account made up between 11% and 20% of their nett salary. About 66% expressed concern with the unaffordably high cost of municipal services.

Conradie’s national research found that the following factors were largely to blame for inner-city decay – lack of political vision, ineffectual political leadership, political instability, lack of continuity in municipal management, complex politics, poor stakeholder collaboration, corrupt practices, lack of municipal oversight, uncoordinated by-law enforcement, inadequate policing of problem buildings and illegal dumping, unsatisfactory municipal service delivery, undocumented immigrants and a general shortage of expertise and knowledge.

Graph 1 below pinpoints key concerns of residents and ratepayers.

Graph 1

With over 76% of respondents having lived in the Garden Route for longer than 5 years, they are well placed to objectively express their perceptions of the state of decline of their city / town.

The responses in graph 2 below, reflects the general decline in basic service delivery – except for sanitation. In terms of electricity, water and waste, households are turning to becoming self-reliant – it is only self-reliance on water where respondents are lagging.

Graph 2.

In terms of public participation about 75% of respondents who provided input on the IDP, Annual Budget, SDF and By-Laws said they had not received any feedback from the municipality. This underscores the assumption that municipalities do not take ratepayers’ participation seriously and strengthens the majority view that only the needs of the political parties and municipal officials are being addressed.

Graph 3 identifies the top problems being the high cost of municipal services (69%) roads (61%), law enforcement (58%), electricity (48%), degradation of the environment (45,4%) and water (45,2%).

Graph 3.

“Taking a long-term sustainable outlook, the era for co-production of public services is needed whereby the private, community, academic and municipal sectors join hands to achieve a joint vision for the Garden Route.

Almost 66% of respondents indicated that they do not know what the vision of their city or town is. Council and municipal leadership should ensure clear communication and participation in the cocreation of a corporate vision,” says Farrell.

Conradie indicates that residents’ and property owners’ groupings can make a huge difference to a turnaround initiative. “Municipal and council leadership should engage and address collective and individual concerns without being defensive. If not, a climate of distrust and suspicion is created.

“These research findings should not be viewed negatively by municipalities or political parties. Instead, they should rather embrace the diversity of views and perceptions and jointly put action plans together to stop the decay, by utilizing representative citizenry leadership in collaboration with appointed local authority leadership.

Formal public participation practices are not accomplishing their intended goals – hence alternative engagement solutions need to be explored,” says Farrell.

Finally in reviewing the content of the memorandum presented to George Municipality by a collective leadership cutting across racial divides and colour lines on the 24th of August 23 we found direct links to the questionnaire outcome with specific reference to amongst other exorbitant property rates, electricity needs, access to and poor municipal services, alleged illicit activities, transport needs and water services. The representative nature of the outcome of the survey as being applicable to all Garden Route communities is hence confirmed.

Farrell emphasised that the salient features in the feedback provided are not exhaustive but it is enough to warrant urgent engagement of political and municipal leaders with other representative citizenry leaders in addressing the decay within the Garden Route. He confirmed that a copy of the survey outcome in slide format was shared with each Municipal Manager within the Garden Route on 29 August 23. A comparative overview of the salient features from the survey of cities and towns will be shared with Group ditors for distribution during
the next 2 weeks.

Business Café is committed to building Trust, finding ways to Collaborate and to be Solution driven.

Dr Dennis Farrell.

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