Yesterday morning, on 22 November 2023, officials at the Emalahleni South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) in the Emalahleni Local Municipality (ELM), Mpumalanga Province, were surprised by an unexpected client when the Deputy for Public Service and Administration, Dr Chana Pilane-Majake, showed up at their offices. The unannounced visit to the local SASSA offices was one of the three service delivery points, including the local Home Affairs offices and the Klarinet Thusong Service Centre, that Dr Pilane-Majake had planned to visit ahead of the formal engagement with a variety of stakeholders within the ELM later that day.

Accompanied by Councillor MB Hlumbane, the ELM’s acting mayor, Speaker of Council, Councillor L Maraba, and Chief Director at the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA), Mr Emmanuel Kgomo, Dr Pilane-Majake’s visit to the SASSA offices aimed to assess the quality of service provided to the community and identify any areas that needed improvement, particularly concerning the implementation of the Batho Pele norms and standards for which the DPSA is responsible.

During the visit, the Deputy Minister heard that the SASSA office serves residents from the 24 wards that make up the Emalahleni Local Municipality. The local SASSA office processes 102,291 grants of different types, which are disbursed timely, the officials explained during the visit.

However, concerns were raised about the long waiting times and the frequency of the unavailability of services when “the system was offline” due to internet connectivity challenges, as well as the challenges faced with the timous procurement of cleaning materials.

At the nearby Department of Home Affairs (DHA) service site, which the provincial department shares with the Department of Labour, the Deputy Minister’s observations and interaction confirmed those that the DPSA pre-visit assessment team had made. The Deputy Minister noted that while there was adequate service signage inside the building, there was none on the roads leading to the service point, which made access difficult for first-time visitors.

After a similar unannounced site visit to the Klarinet Thusong Service Centre, located some 15 kilometres from the Emalahleni CDB, the Deputy Minister began the formal part of her stakeholder engagement, which drew the participation of about 300 people to the Emalahleni City Hall.

As with the site visits, Dr Pilane-Majake was engaging the Emalahleni stakeholders both in her capacity as the Deputy Minister for the Public Service and Administration and National Champion for the District Development Model, with the mandate to support the implementation of public service and administration norms and standards as well as ensuring that services are delivered in an integrated manner.

To ensure inclusivity and ownership of solutions, engagement was facilitated in a town hall format, which enabled the Deputy Minister to engage the delegates, with the support of the leadership of the Emalahleni Local Municipality. The identified representatives from business, academia, and professional stakeholders provided input from their respective perspectives, followed by robust engagements from the floor.

Explaining the rationale for the choice of stakeholder, Dr Pilane-Majake said that academics are essential for problem analysis and problem-solving, while professionals with government service expertise can advise on improving the situation. They were also brought in to help address challenges that the community of Emalahleni faces, she added.

Although the stakeholders raised many specific points about the municipality’s performance, there were also many issues that required the attention of national government departments, including the DPSA. These included concerns about the shabby way some public servants treat service beneficiaries and overcrowding at the Witbank Hospital, which has a debilitating impact on the work and lives of medical professionals.

In her presentation, Dr NS Mtembu painted a picture of the conditions under which medical staff work at Witbank Hospital, remarking that “the professionals are there, but the environment within which they work is not ideal”. The doctor proposed that local clinics be accessible 24 to decongest the hospital.

In her summation, and way forward remarks, Deputy Minister Pilane-Majake expressed gratitude to all stakeholders, including community leaders, healthcare professionals, government officials, and the public, for their participation and commitment to improving service delivery for the community’s betterment. She further committed to DPSA’s continued efforts to sensitise public servants about interacting with the public in line with the Batho Pele ethos and principles.