South Africa: Durban Homeowners Withhold Rates Payments to Protest Rates Hike

Homeowners say the eThekwini municipality’s 2023/2024 budget does not take into account the inclusive needs of ratepayers.

  • Ratepayers in eThekwini have decided not to pay their municipal bills since July this year, after rates were hiked by 15,1%.
  • The members of the Westville Ratepayers’ Association have set up a trust account into which households have been paying their monthly rates, rather than into the municipality’s account.
  • The eThekwini municipality says the revenue is needed to fund services that “benefit the community”.

Homeowners in Westville and several surrounding suburbs in Durban are opting to withhold their monthly rates payments in protest against eThekwini municipality’s recent tariff hike.

The members of the Westville Ratepayers Association have set up a trust account into which participating households have been paying their rates instead of paying the municipality directly.

The group state the municipality’s 2023/2024 budget does not take into account the inclusive needs of ratepayers. Among other concerns, the ratepayers complained of water loss and the recent floods. They state the municipality’s credit-control policy is failing because its outstanding debt has increased by about R4.7-billion for the period of February 2022 to February 2023.

Warren Manning, 53, is among scores of association members who are no longer paying their municipal bills until the municipality reduces its tariffs.

Manning, who is self-employed, said he has lived in Westville for 23 years with his family of four. He said he joined the association earlier this year after he had been battling to understand why his utility bill had shot up from about R3,300 to about R5,400 per month.

He said numerous attempts over a two-month period to get answers directly from the municipality were futile. “The sad part is that the municipality’s officials only assume what my rates should be. I believe they don’t charge me according to my household’s usage. I have decided to join the protest this month [August]. The municipality has not yet contacted me for the payment,” he said.

“We were not billed for July and I don’t know why. This has happened to many people, judging from our consultations. So I expected to get a double bill for electricity in August. Water costs also fluctuate, mainly according to the way the metro splits consumption between the low (0-200 litres per day) and the higher rate. The same applies to sewer charges. I don’t know how they do it, but this pushes the water and sewer portion up,” said Manning.

Yogesh Naidoo from Reservoir Hills said about two weeks ago he and other households started a group and joined the Westville residents’ protest.

“We are not the only ones calling for accountability within the eThekwini municipality. Even the informal settlement residents also want accountability. We are surrounded by informal settlements and when we who live in the formal houses are not getting services it becomes worse for them,” he said.

Naidoo said other issues they’ve raised with the municipality includes broken streetlights that have not been fixed for several months, causing safety concerns.

Association chairman Asad Gaffar told GroundUp their ratepayers took a collective decision in June to no longer make payments directly to the municipality, but rather pay into an account set up by the association. “The account is for the purpose of holding the rates, tariffs, etc. We have put into place additional controls to protect people’s money,” he said.

“No one at eThekwini municipality offices is listening to us. On 20 July 2023, the Westville ratepayers association raised the issue of overreach and the arbitrary decision taken by the municipality to apply the 15.1% electricity tariffs, overriding a full council decision taken on 30 May 2023.

“What are these opposition parties really doing? Ratepayers are still waiting for the outcomes of their objections raised last year. Are they even aware that an appeals board has not been established?” he asked.

“[Residents] are being forced to pay the additional increase on rates tariff applicable for 2023/2024. The Westville ratepayers are officially lodging a dispute on behalf of every person in eThekwini affected by this unfair situation,” said Gaffar.