Unannounced visits are not meant to catch officials off-guard but to assess the as-is situation at frontline service delivery sites, said the Deputy Minister for the Public Service and Administration, Dr Chana Pilane-Majake.
Deputy Minister Pilane-Majake made this assurance during the unannounced visit to the Louiville Thusong Service Centre on Friday, 12 January 2024, as part of the second leg of the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) outreach and engagement programme in the Ehlazeni District, in the Mpumalanga province.
“Unannounced visits help us to get an accurate picture of the situation at the service sites. You don’t have to perfect the situation because the Deputy Minister is coming. I am here to monitor and observe whether the Thusong Service Centre is providing the services it was established to provide,” Dr Pilane-Majake explained.
Located over 50 kilometres from the Mbombela provincial capital, Louiville is a small town near Barberton in the picturesque Makhonjwa Mountains range, a designated world heritage site. The calming beauty of Louiville’s surroundings, however, belies the many challenges faced by its residents, worsened by the closure of the Lily Mine following the 2016 mining accident, which resulted in the loss of lives and livelihoods.
A virtual “ghost town”, most of the daily struggles that the community faces end up at the doors of the Louiville Thusong Service Centre, but it is ill-prepared to help resolve them. The Thusong Service Centre operates within a derelict building in what looked like an abandoned precinct that once housed the offices of the erstwhile Kangwane government before 1994.
Although the Thusong Service Centre manager assured the Deputy Minister that the centre was operational, there was little indication of this at the time of the unannounced visit, except for the primary health clinic, where there was some activity.
According to the manager, the centre hosts satellite offices of the Departments of Social Development and the South African Social Security Agency; Agriculture, Rural Development, Land and Environmental Affairs; Home Affairs; Health; and Labour, which offer full-time or part-time services. The precinct also has a post office, a daycare centre, and a youth advice centre.
Before the Lily Mine tragedy and the closure of the mine, the funds that the community received from the mine were directed to the Louiville Thusong Service Centre to cover its operational and maintenance costs, said the centre manager. Apart from the salaries the centre officials receive from their respective departments or agencies, the Thusong Service Centre operates with little to non-existent funding, as none of its tenants makes financial contributions in terms of rent or in any other way, which severely impacts the daily work of the centre, according to the centre manager.
Moreover, explained the manager, the centre is often on the receiving end of the ongoing community protests arising from the unresolved issues around mining operations in the area.
“The mess that we are experiencing here, Deputy Minister, is primarily because of the issue of Lily Mine. The residents mainly depended on the mines for their incomes. Life is difficult here. I pray every night that I will find the offices still in one piece each morning I report to work,” said the centre manager.
The innovative Thusong Service Centre programme was launched a decade and a half ago to bring essential services closer to where people live, especially in remote and under-resourced communities such as Louiville. Their ability to discharge this function often depends on factors such as a conducive operational environment, ongoing management support and resourcing.
The unannounced visit exposed the Deputy Minister to how the neglect of this critical community resource continues to undermine its ability to effectively serve the community and address its needs. Through the Office of the Deputy Minister, the DPSA will devise a post-unannounced visit plan of action that would help facilitate the processes towards the resolution of the challenges that impede the ability of the Louiville Thusong Service Centre to carry out its critical role in the community.
“I acknowledge that the community of Louiville faces many challenges and that there are families that continue to grieve the loss of their loved ones after the tragic mining accident. However, I also believe that the community would like to see the centre succeed for their benefit, and I am here to make sure this happens,” said Deputy Minister Pilane-Majake.