Making the masses pay up
FIKILE Bili, CEO of Zandile Management Services, thinks he might have an answer to South Africa's crippling service delivery shortcomings.
His debt recovery services company has developed a product that collects outstanding payments for municipal services on behalf of municipalities that have been struggling to get the money into their coffers.
Bili has made it his business to understand the minds of township residents. He says "as a resident of the area myself, I know my frustrations with poor service delivery and how the part I can play will eventually make my life better".
He adds: "I have also done some research into the way municipalities were collecting debt from residents who had failed to pay up and found gaps.
"After talking to several groupings in different areas, I found that most people wanted to pay for their services but needed some gentle nudging.
"Therein lay my secret. I worked out several strategies and went back to the community to test their feelings about the approach, which seemed a plausible win-win. They liked it.
"From there on I was left with the task of convincing municipalities that I could get the much-needed revenue to get services back on track."
After speaking to several municipalities, the Mkhondo municipality in Mpumalanga gave him a chance.
In less than three months, Bili says, his company had collected more than R17m in unpaid revenue from residents.
He says their success lies in their unique approach to debtcollection.
He says although municipalities had tried to recover this money, the complexity and scope of what is required for successful collection warrants consideration of the use of collection agencies.
"Debt collectors are the only solution for bleeding municipalities because municipalities don't have the resources or skills to recover debt," he says.
South African municipalities are wrestling with growing debt levels that are crippling their ability to render basic services, which often lead to violent protests.
According to a report released by National Treasury in August, South Africa's metropolitan municipalities were owed R46.1bn by consumers as of June this year.
"Our secret is in our approach. We are not aggressive but persuasive. We act as a go-between between municipalities and the communities.
Lekwa Taemane municipality in North West province has been on stream for less than a month. He says they began to roll out the project and now they have people on the ground, meetingresidents.
After working for several years as a consulting engineer with municipalities, Bili decided to establish a debt-collecting company.
Bili says: "During apartheid we burnt people who paid for services while the protests against the then system were at an all-time high. But, when we got freedom we sort of forgot to tell them that they must now pay for their services."
He admits that sometimes his system is difficult to implement in some areas because of political tensions.