PRESIDENTIAL LETTER TO CITIZENS 23 March 2020

This morning, 23 March, President Cyril Ramaphosa released a letter to all South Africans.

The statement reads:

“Dear Fellow South African,

There comes a time in the affairs of a country when, in the face of the most formidable of challenges, its very existence as a nation is put to the test.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to spread at a relentless pace across the globe. As nations of the world we find ourselves in the same fight: to contain the virus, to protect the lives of our people, and to fortify our economies against the inevitable disruption to manufacturing, productivity, growth and employment.

It has been a week since we declared a National State of Disaster as an urgent response to the outbreak and put in place necessary containment measures.

These measures relate to the prohibition of gatherings of more than 100 people, restrictions on people entering the country, the closure of schools, the sale of alcohol and emergency procurement procedures in support of the fight against COVID-19.

The Department of Health, supported by the entire government communications machinery, has led efforts to raise awareness among the general public around screening and detection, prevention, hygiene control and the importance of social distancing.

The manner in which all South Africans have taken charge of not just their own personal health but the health of those around them has been exemplary and heartening. Everywhere we see signs of behavioural change as the nation rallies behind infection control measures.

From filling stations to taxi ranks, from spazas to restaurants, South Africans fully understand the gravity of the situation. Hand-washing is being practiced and hand sanitiser is available in stores and other retail spaces. People are observing the rules restricting large public gatherings. Businesses and workplaces are complying with the regulations in the best interests of their customers and employees.

Last week representatives from all the political parties in Parliament stood united on a public platform to declare their support for the national effort to combat the pandemic. At the same time, they offered practical and workable suggestions on how we can mitigate its impact on lives and livelihoods.

In the same week, religious leaders representing a multiplicity of faiths and denominations also affirmed their support, taking bold and far-reaching decisions to contain the spread of the virus in churches, temples, mosques and synagogues. They did so fully understanding that no matter how sensitive and difficult these decisions are, the sanctity of life must be preserved.

Corporate South Africa and the business community have stepped up, affirming their support for the emergency measures and regulations, and opening channels of engagement around the economic impact of COVID-19. Yesterday, I met with representatives of the business community to discuss measures we need to take together to combat the pandemic and address its economic impact.

Elsewhere, large retailers have issued directives restricting the purchase quantities of in-demand items to curtail so-called ‘panic buying’. This measure was a laudable effort to protect the rights of ordinary South Africans, but most especially the poor. It is also a welcome sign that South African business will not engage in unscrupulous profiteering from a national disaster.

This week I will be meeting with different arms of the state, trade unions, traditional leaders, civil society formations and other sectors. I have no doubt that they too are already mobilised and united behind the national effort.

What we are witnessing is social solidarity in action, a defining feature of our nationhood. At times of crisis such as this one, it would be easy to surrender to the impulses of opportunism, greed and naked self-interest. History bears witness to the dark side of human nature that can be exposed when fear and panic takes hold.

But as the South African nation we are standing firm. As we navigate our way through the difficult times that lie ahead, we must continue in the spirit of empathy and selflessness and move with unity of purpose. The social compacts of which I have spoken are needed now as never before. Of these, the social compact between citizens and their government is the most important of all.

I am a firm believer in the people. I also believe, as Abraham Lincoln once said, that “if given the truth, [the people] can be depended upon to meet any national crisis”.

We know the truth and what is to be done. We have to contain the spread of the virus. We have to ensure those who need help get it. We have to observe the highest standards of hygiene and practice social distancing.

Our success relies on the effort and energies of every citizen and their commitment to help and assist others.

This crisis will not debilitate our nation. In how we have responded, we have affirmed the true character of our nationhood. It is strong, it is resilient and, above all, it is rooted in solidarity.

It is these attributes of our national character that won us our democracy and it is what will ensure our victory over this pandemic.

With best wishes,

Cyril Ramaphosa

IT’S TORTOISE TUFF TIME

This Saturday sees the running (and walking) of one of Sedgefield’s biggest and most-loved sporting events – The Sedgefield Striders Tortoise Tuff, sponsored by Pick n Pay and a host of other generous co-sponsors.
Indeed from 5am onwards the Sedgefield Primary School fields will be buzzing with ever-intensifying pre-race excitement as athletes from all over the Western Province, and indeed South Africa, arrive to take on the Tuff challenge.
The two most gruelling races the Tuff has are the 30km, which takes runners (and some walkers) over the steepest terrain that Sedgefield and surrounds has to offer, and the 23km Trail Run that leads athletes on sandy pathways through the hills and valleys of the Goukamma Nature Reserve. The 30km walk starts at 6am, and the run at 7am, whilst the trail run sets off at 7.10am.
But there are easier, and indeed quicker-paced events on offer too. The 10km course, which forms part of the Athletics South West District Running and Walking Trials, is flat and fast, taking competitors around the scenic Island suburb. As well as the speedsters and those looking to improve their 10km personal best, the race is also popular for runners and walkers who are after a more social experience. The starting time for this event is 7.15am.
As is tradition, the Striders’ race-day menu also includes something for the young, and perhaps not so fit. This is the 3km Tortoise Tuff Fun Run, which forms part of the ASWD Sub-youth trials and starts at 7.20am. Always a favourite for people of all ages and fitness levels, what better event for a bit of family time together?
Online entries for all these events are already closed, but late entries will be accepted at the school field on the afternoon of Friday (13 March). The Fun Run may be entered either on the Friday afternoon, or on the morning of the race from 6am onwards.
The Tortoise Tuff organisers are extremely grateful that many of Sedgefield’s businesses, clubs, and indeed residents have stepped forward to support the event. This assistance includes anything from sponsoring spot prizes, to operating refreshment tables at designated spots along the course, to acting as marshals at various intersections.
Locals who aren’t taking part are encouraged to show their Sedgefield Community spirit by encouraging the runners along the courses, and coming to the school to cheer them in at the end of each race. Please also be aware of the sizeable increase of ‘pedestrian traffic’ on our roads during the morning.

MUNICIPALITY APPROACHES COURT FOR INTERDICT OVER LAND INVASIONS

The Knysna Municipality has approached the High Court for an urgent interdict to address land invasions in the Greater Knysna area. 

Dr Michele Gratz, acting Municipal Manager said the application follows land invasions on the Groenvallei sand dunes in Sedgefield. “The area at this stage cannot be classified as safe and stable, and in the interest of safety, we urge residents not to build on these dunes. The invasion also poses a serious risk to the integrity of this sensitive coastal landscape.”

“We ask the community to refrain from any unlawful activity and appeal to them to cooperate with the Municipality. We have no option but to enforce and uphold the law. The interdict will allow the municipality to open a case of trespassing against anyone occupying land illegally and arrest anyone trespassing on the land and prosecute them successfully”, Gratz, continued.

“To protect the assets and infrastructure of our town we are taking a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to illegal activities like these. Despite our warnings, residents continue to unlawfully invade land and rely on the Property Act (PIE Act) to legitimise their unlawful behaviour. We will no longer tolerate this. Communities must be mindful that this matter took up time and resources which could have been spent on service delivery”, Gratz concluded.

Knysna Council approves cost-cutting measures to alleviate cash flow crisis

At a Special Council meeting held on 26 February, Council approved cost-cutting measures presented by Acting Municipal Manager, Dr Michele Gratz.

She said various factors led to the current cash-flow crisis faced by the Municipality, including unrealistic budgeting, poor financial controls, a high percentage of outstanding debtors and an increased capital budget.

Dr Gratz presented a short, medium and long-term plan to address the cash flow crisis. “In terms of Liquidity Management, the current ratio of current assets to current liabilities is 1.24:1. The national norm as set by National Treasury is 1.5:1. This means that the Municipality’s immediate available cash and cash equivalents would not be available to settle accounts payable within the legally prescribed period of 30 days. However, the ratio of total borrowings to total operating revenue is 21% compared to the norm of 45%, so we have an opportunity to borrow funds for capital expenditure for service delivery. “

The following actions, overseen and driven by a project team, are proposed for implementation immediately:

  • Obtaining a short –term loan/overdraft facility;
  • Freezing of all unfilled posts;
  • Curtailment of capital projects funded by own funds;
  • Curtailment of travelling and subsistence costs;
  • Curtailment of overtime;
  • Curtailment of catering;
  • Implementation of strict budget control measures;
  • Implementation of strict credit control procedures;
  • Efficient collection of grants that are outstanding.

In the medium-term, the following actions need to be followed:

  • Issue of a proper budget procedure for the 2020 / 2021 Budget year;
  • Revise performance targets;
  •  Ensure that municipal activities, rules and procedures are consistent with relevant policies, legislation and by-laws.  Revision of all municipal policies, strategies and operational plans;
  •  Taking up of loans at the beginning of the financial year and not bridge financing;
  • Revision of all employee-related policies;
  • Revision of organisational structure in line with service delivery and within the affordability of Municipality;
  • Revision of tariffs in line with actual costs;
  • Cash flows.

For the long term, Gratz suggested that a financial recovery plan be designed with the purpose of improving service delivery. “This plan should include a revision of the roles and responsibilities of local authorities as envisaged in the Local Government Turnaround Strategy (LGTAS).  These are service delivery, governance, financial management, infrastructure development and fighting corruption. It is important that only functions allocated to the local government in terms of schedules 4 Part B and 5 Part B of the Constitution be undertaken and funded by Council.”

SCARCE SKILLS POLICY

Council also voted in favour of a recommendation from Gratz to stop the payment of the 20% Scarce Skills Allowances to the Municipal Manager and Directors with immediate effect, and instructed her to recover all amounts paid since inception. In her recommendation, she said that she received notice from the office of MEC Anton Bredell that the payments are unlawful, and that he has launched an application to the High Court against the Municipality. “Provincial Treasury also advised that these payments are unlawful. At a cost of over R117 000 per month, our cash flow crisis and a pending court order against us, there was no other option than to cease these payments.”

GRANT-IN-AID

The annual Grant-in-aid proposal was presented to Council for approval at the meeting. Gratz said Council noted the application, but decided to hold back with the allocations until the Municipality’s cash flow has improved.

INVESTIGATION INTO ALLEGED ALLEGATIONS AGAINST MUNICIPAL MANAGER DR VATALA

At a Council meeting on 13 February, Council placed Municipal Manager Dr Vatala on precautionary suspension after allegations of alleged financial misconduct were leveled against him.  Gratz said that despite Dr Vatala being given until 25 February to make written presentation why he should not be suspended on a second complaint brought by the Knysna Ratepayers, Council has not received any response. “An independent investigator was appointed and with the recently appointed Disciplinary Board, we will proceed with a full investigation. A report must be submitted to the Executive Mayor within a period of 30 days of appointment.”

The disciplinary board consists of the Chief Audit Executive of the Knysna Municipality, the Legal Advisor of Mossel Bay Municipality, the Chairperson of the Audit Committee of the Knysna Municipality and the Head of Legal Services, George Municipality.

IMPROVED SERVICE DELIVERY

Dr Gratz said that the cash flow crisis is an opportunity to streamline processes and improve service delivery. “With the LGTAS we will increase efficiency, improve the turnaround time on complaints and queries and manage overtime better. It will also include stricter budget control measures and with our medium and long term plans in place, we strive to make the Municipality better and stronger.”

COMMUNITY PICKS UP GROENVLEI CAUSE

When Cape Nature called for public participation in solving the much publicised Groenvlei carp problem, they surely had no idea how seriously their request would be taken.
The call for assistance was made at a public meeting held on 6 February where many local residents voiced concerns over the condition of the lake, which is thought to be due to the exponential growth of the population of invasive carp.

Soon after the meeting, local fishing enthusiast Gill Thomas, contacted Johnny Snyman, inviting him and his bow-hunting team to lunch. She congratulated the bow-hunters on their effort towards reducing the carp numbers in the Groenvlei Lake. Rightfully so, considering they have removed an impressive 12 tonnes of the invasive species in the last 20 months.

She then offered to assist them in increasing their efforts with the use of specialised carp nets, which she would sponsor – to the tune of R20 000!
“Furthermore,” Johnny enthused later, “Gill told us that if anyone matches her donation, she will double it!”
Two nets – each 100m long – have been ordered from Bertie Burger, a professional net maker from the West Coast who has been handcrafting specialised nets since he was 12. He is now over 70.
Bertie and his wife are driving down to Sedgefield and will arrive on Friday to deliver the nets and advise on their usage. This too has been made possible by a community effort. Their accommodation has been provided free by Lake Pleasant Chalets and Lodges, with Traders and Garden Bistro providing their meals.
Michael Berman, another local, has also kindly donated a trawling motor and an outboard motor to Johnny’s team to be used in the carp eradication project.

Armed with this extra ‘arsenal’ for carp capture, they will continue running the bow-hunting project, whilst setting the gill nets at the same time. They are designed to be species specific, so that bass or any indigenous fish are not affected.
“The permit allows us to put the nets out just after sunset, and they must be taken in just before sunrise,” explains Johnny, “This is important as it minimises the danger of catching birds and otters.”

He says that his team partners well with Cape Nature. There is a good deal of trust on both sides and he is convinced that each has Groenvlei’s best interest at heart.

Johnny may be contacted on johnny@heartwoodbowsonline.com

Knysna Municipal Manager, Dr Sitembele Vatala placed on precautionary suspension

Following a special council meeting Thursday 13 February, Knysna Municipal Manager, Dr Sitembele Vatala, was placed on precautionary suspension as a result of allegations levelled against him. The section of the meeting in which this matter was discussed was closed to the public. Deputy Executive Mayor Cllr Aubrey Tsengwa said that all Councillors voted in favour of this suspension. “Council will appoint an independent investigator within 7 days to probe the allegations and the municipal manager will be on suspension for the duration of the investigation. The investigator must submit its findings to the municipal council within 30 days.”

Tsengwa said the investigator will take an in-depth look into the allegations brought against Dr Vatala. “The Municipal Manager’s precautionary suspension was for the protection of all parties and to ensure an unbiased investigation without any influence from the parties involved.”

Tsengwa concluded by saying that it is important to note that Dr Vatala has not been charged with any misconduct at this point in time. “Dr Michelle Gratz, former municipal manager of Mossel Bay Municipality has been appointed as the acting municipal manager in the interim.”

“I want to assure the public that the investigation will not influence service delivery and the day to day running of the municipality. The Knysna Council has acted with the well-being of the Municipality as our first and foremost priority. We have confidence in the ability of  Dr Gratz to steer the administration during this time.”

ALL EYES ON KNYSNA MUNICIPALITY

Picture – Knysna’s current Municipal Manager Dr Vatala – are his days numbered?

It seems that Knysna Municipality is holding its collective breath at the moment as all wait to see if  Dr Sitembele Wiseman Vatala becomes the third Municipal Manager in succession to leave the local authority under a cloud.
This after Knysna Municipality landed in such a cash-strapped position that there is a question as to whether February’s salary bill can be met.
At the Council Meeting on 30 January, the blame for this situation was put squarely on Vatala’s shoulders by a majority of councillors, who eventually voted for a motion that he be given seven days to give written reasons why he should not be suspended for, in basic terms, mismanagement of the Municipality’s finances. This motion, proposed by DA’s Peter Myers, was carried eleven votes to nine.
It seems that this huge cash-flow problem is a result of the expenditure of approximately R66 million over budget, and under-performance in revenue collection of R16 million. Furthermore, approximately R26 million of the Municipality’s own funds has been used for advanced funding of projects set to be paid for through National and Provincial Government grants.
This left the Municipality as at 31 December 2019, with a cash deficit of almost R10 million.
“How could this happen?” asked Councillor Peter Myers, “How did we get into this situation, from a perfect budget passed midway through last year, to the dire situation we are in now?”
He believes that the Municipal Manager had ignored the warning signs.
“In terms of the Municipal Systems Act, the Accounting Officer – that is the Municipal Manager – is ultimately responsible for the management of the Municipality’s income and expenditure,” he said.
Whilst there were no accusations of theft or corruption made at the lengthy and rather feisty council meeting, it was more than evident that the knives were out and it was Vatala’s head that was on the block.
The Chief Financial Officer Mbulelo Memani was also at the meeting, and presented, on behalf of the Municipal Manager, a Draft Cash Management Plan, explaining how they had got into trouble and including several remedial actions to try and right the severely listing ship. They were:-
• To immediately arrange an overdraft facility with the bank. This is necessary for only short-term bridging finance, and may not exceed the capital projects earmarked to be financed from borrowing.
• The capital projects earmarked to be financed from loans must all be reconsidered and only those projects which are absolutely essential must continue. The other projects should be delayed, or cancelled.
• The projects which they would continue must then also be financed from loans.
• The calculated capital needed for these projects must be immediately borrowed, and not involve waiting until the projects are completed.
• All future capital projects to be financed from loans, until the municipality has recovered from the cash flow deficit and has rebuilt a healthy Capital Replacement Reserve.
• A moratorium should be placed on the filling of all budgeted vacancies, except where it is again absolutely critical for essential service delivery. This must prevail until a proper work-study is conducted, in order to ensure that the organogram is aligned to the Integrated Development Plan (IDP) which is efficient, affordable and sustainable.
However, Councillor Myers said he did not want Vatala steering the ship any longer, reasoning that the person who had allowed the Municipality to get into such a precarious financial position should surely not be the one in charge of the recovery plan.
Vatala was particularly aggrieved by the suggestion that he was to blame, calling the proposal for his suspension an illegal move. But not even his vocal threat to personally sue any councillor who did not vote in his favour was enough to deter the majority.
Since the motion was passed, the Municipal Manager has been issued with a written notification, the deadline for his reply being Monday 10 February. What response, if any, he has given will only come to light at the Special Council Meeting set for Thursday 13 February.

ALL GO FOR SEDGEFIELD SLOW FEST 2020

There is a definite excited buzz about the 2020 Sedgefield Slow Festival going on behind the scenes, with the organising committee pulling out all the stops for a bigger and better fest yet!

Many will have realised that the Festival weekend (27 – 29 March) is not taking place over Easter this year. This was always part of the long-term plan to move the Slow Festival to a different time in the school holidays once it had gathered momentum, so that visitors would be encouraged to come to Sedgefield on what would otherwise not be a busy weekend. The change also prevents Slow Festival events overlapping with parts of the Christian Easter calendar that many hold dear.

The great news for this year is that the ‘hub’ of the Slow Fest is back on the Village Green – which is central and easily accessible to the whole community. With stall-holders already eagerly signing up, plus many events – old favourites and new, it is hoped that the Green (or should that be Orange?) will be an overflowing hive of family activity, relaxation, and generally having a good old Sedgefield time.

Says the Festival’s Social Media whip-cracker Jan Gibson “Starting with the opening night party on 27th, a full Programme on the 28th then the parade, prize-giving and after-party on 29th it really is going to be non-stop fun!”

As last year, the Sedgefield Lions are co-ordinating the festival, with Wendy Ruscoe captaining the ship, and Natalie Etridge in charge of events, Shelley van Eeden handling the stalls on the green and Vonnie Veldtman dealing with the famous Slow Festival Parade.

Talking of ships – The EDGE is once again organising the infamous ‘Anything That Floats’ Competition, and calling for the daring boat-builders, cunning craft constructors and slippery sub-sinkers to sign up for another hilarious day of flying, floating and falling apart chaos.
“This year spectators will be able to take part in voting for their favourite boats to win the overall prize,” says organiser Bomber Webb.

As is tradition, local businesses are encouraged to start collecting their orange paraphernalia so that they can ‘Get Their Orange On’ in the days leading up to the Slow Festival. This goes a long way to promote the festival to folks driving through, and builds excitement and community spirit for the locals. More details of the ‘Get Your Orange On’ competition in future editions.

Anyone wanting to keep abreast of the Slow Festival should follow them on Facebook. Contact details for the committee members may be found on the website:-
slowfestival.co.za

CONGRATULATIONS TO DEMI & TIM

Congratulations to our ‘home-girl’ Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters (former Miss Universe, Miss South Africa and Head Girl of Sedgefield Primary) on her marriage to American sporting legend Tim Tebow.
The internationally-loved couple tied the knot in a stunning sunset ceremony at the La Paris Estate in Franschhoek, near Cape Town on Monday 20 January. The ceremony was attended by 260 guests.
Close friends of Demi’s family Mario and Lizette Ferreira and their children Juan and Kayla were on the guest list, and were delighted to join Demi’s mom Anne-Marie and stepdad Johan at the grand occasion. All were blown away by what Mario could only describe as a fairytale wedding.
“Everything,” he enthused, “Everything was just WOW!”
“The attention to detail was just amazing, and every single thing really expressed the couple’s strong Christian faith.”

He described how the venue was adorned with masses of mostly white flowers – Orchids, Anthuriums and Roses – with a classy black aisle on which the couple walked between the guests. A full orchestra, The Soweto Choir, and the wedding service being officiated by Tim’s close friend Louie Giglio just made the day even more special.

“And when Matthew Mole performed ‘Pennsylvania’ – a song he had written especially for the couple’s first dance, it was the magical cherry on the top,” said Mario
Demi-Leigh looked more resplendent than ever in her custom gown by Davids Bridal and Tim wore a tuxedo by Antar Levar.
In an interview with People Magazine before the wedding, Tim explained that they had written their own vows. “I want the vows to be perfect. I’m leaving in the traditional things like ’till death do us part,’ but I’m also adding some of my own things to it.”
Demi shared how the wedding blended South African and American wedding traditions “We’re both very traditional,” she said “We wanted to look back at the wedding and see that it was intimate, elegant, and traditional. We definitely wanted it to be something that we could look back on and know that nothing was dated. We want to remember this day for the rest of our lives.”
Tim had an equally romantic outlook “I’ve been looking forward to three things,” he said to PEOPLE. “The first moment I see her in her wedding dress, the first kiss, and the first dance together as man and wife. It’s such a special night.”
He continued, “I’ve been waiting my entire life for someone special, who I can spend the rest of my life with. I was waiting for the right person to come along. And now I’m marrying Demi. I can’t wait to see what our future holds. All of my dreams have come true. It was 100 percent worth the wait.”
On behalf of the Sedgefield community, we send hearty congratulations and wish God’s richest blessing on this very special couple.

GROENVLEI TO BRUINVLEI

CAPE NATURE CALLS FOR PARTNERSHIPS TO ASSIST IN RESTORING THIS UNIQUE BODY OF WATER

(PICTURE: Aerial photo of Groenvlei showing current poor water clarity taken on 9 January 2020. Extremely worrying when compared to the
photo on page 3, taken a year previously)

Whilst locals have known for some time that ‘Groenvlei’ (known to some as ‘Lake Pleasant’) has been suffering over the last year or so due to the ever-increasing population of the invasive Carp, there are some who feel that this once-pristine water system has now reached a point of no return.
The visual evidence that they may be right is substantial. The colour and clarity of the spring-fed fresh-water lake have changed so drastically that it could easily be mistaken for a muddy mine-dump dam, a far cry from the sparkling waters most locals know and love.
Cape Nature, the custodians of Groenvlei and the Goukamma Nature Reserve that surrounds it, have announced that the lake is indeed in a state of serious decline, and are asking for assistance in resuscitating it back to its former glory.
In a press release issued this week, they emphasised the importance of Groenvlei, saying it contains genetically unique populations of two indigenous small fish species, the Estuarine round herring and the Cape silverside. (The press release in full is on page 3)
Records show that the original release of Carp into Groenvlei was done as recently as the late 1990s. According to Rhett Heisman, manager of the Goukamma Reserve at the time, a fisherman had been overheard boasting that he had thrown in ‘a few carp’ because they were his preferred catch. Unfortunately, the perpetrator could not be arrested as his own testimony was the only evidence against him.
Surely a lesson that nature should not be tampered with.