A brochure which was mailed to all City of Cape Town account holders some time ago detailed that the city is aware that some citizens are struggling to pay for municipal services. The printed info seeks to assists pensioners, the unemployed, the disabled and those who are in genuine financial need.

Equipped with the relevant info I publicised my readiness to assist people on two community radio stations and at any occasion that I was allowed. What followed was a stream of people who sought help with regards to the paper work. Though the documents are self-explanatory, any person familiar with community work knows that issues are not always as forthright as initially communicated. On the other hand, I was unprepared for the charlatans hidden in the woodwork.

One example included a person who was not the owner of the property. Ostensibly the actual owner had gone on holiday. As a shareholder in the property, my visitor did not live at the property but was in charge of letting the premises. An absconded tenant had seemingly incurred a massive service related debt [water, electricity etc.] which was admittedly posted to my visitor.

I was left wondering; why Council should benefit a person who obviously receives an income from a property she had shares in when the titled owner was on holiday. While I was prepared to help those with genuine poverty issues, I was left interrogating my dilemma. When a person goes on holiday while owing Council service related debt, was I obliged to help? Is it the municipality’s role to collect from occupants who abscond or from the property owner?

As the leader of a nascent political party, every vote is vital and so I decided to consult. According to Moulana Yusuf Karaan, a juristic and an ethics expert at the Muslim Judicial Council, when a person is able to pay for municipal or any services rendered, by Islamic law that person is obligated to pay.

The Moulana also confirmed that it is not befitting a person to accept charity of any sort if he/she can refrain from doing so. He also suggested that those who live in the leafier suburbs should rather moderate their standard of comfort when they are struggling to pay for services. While helping the working class with genuine financial issues is elementary, attempts at serving the middle class have proven to be an experience fraught with ethical dilemmas.

Another case was a ratepayer who claimed that she was unemployed and entitled to an indigent grant. When I informed her that the application process required a three month bank statement to verify her financial situation, she gawked, got up and did not return.

According to Robert Byrne “democracy is being allowed to vote for the candidate you dislike the least”. Principles and ethics aside, since the major political parties spend most of their energies pointing out the faults of each other, securing that disenchanted voter may be attainable after all.

Cllr Yagyah Adams

Cape Muslim Congress