Despite South Africa’s relatively young local government sphere having made significant strides towards providing basic services – more needs to be done to improve lives.
This was the view of Councillor Thembisile Nkadimeng, President of the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and Polokwane Mayor, in her opening address of the association’s special National Members’ Assembly (NMA).
The special assembly comes as municipalities gear up for this year’s local government elections scheduled for 27 October 2021.
“It has become necessary for us to prepare for the transition that municipalities will experience before, during and post the elections. Our intentions, therefore, commencing with this special NMA, is to ensure that we develop a comprehensive programme of guidance and support in response to potential challenges that may be faced by municipalities during this transition.
“As we convene this NMA this week, recent celebrations in the month of April reminded us that this year marks 27 years since we attained our freedom from the apartheid rule,” she said.
“As celebrations unfolded across the country, many of us took the opportunity to share stories of where we were on that fateful day on 27 April in 1994. Our exciting experiences of standing in long queues to exercise our first democratic right to vote, was the case for most of us. We have undoubtedly made strides towards realising the rights of our people for a better life and advancing human dignity.”
Improving service delivery
However, Nkadimeng said local government should take an honest moment and reflect on commitments made on basic needs of the populace. These included the creation of jobs, provision of housing, introduction of electricity, building of schools and hospitals, providing free and quality education, running water and paved roads.
“Upon honest reflection, we must know and also appreciate that we come across many parts of the country where this promise of ‘94 has not yet been fulfilled,” Nkadimeng said.
As the national assembly gathers to reflect at the end of the fourth term of local government and as the country takes stock of the concurrent realities, she said SALGA should go a step further and capture the moment.
The assembly, she said, must use this opportunity to not be defensive but to renew and recommit to the 1994 promise.
“As we march towards the fifth term of a democratic local government with our sights clearly set of improving the living conditions of our people, we must embark on an honest reflection and, in some instances – it will be painful. We must accept the good, the bad and the ugly of this critical sphere of government,” she said.
National Council of Provinces (NCOP) chairperson, Amos Masondo, said while considerable inroads had been made to reverse the impact of the apartheid government’s oppressive laws, that hindered progress in areas harbouring the country’s majority, more development is needed.
“As many would know, apartheid planning was designed to consign the majority of South Africans to places far away from work, where services could not be sustained and where it was difficult to access the benefits of society to meaningfully participate in the economy,” he said.
He said governance systems have led to the integration of poor local authorities.
This, Masondo said, became a game-changer to development in some of the traditional black areas.
“It resulted in some world-class facilities in townships, infrastructure programmes and general rehabilitation programmes. All of these helped to change the face of many cities and towns around the country,” he said, adding that lessons could be learned from this.
However, he admitted that there has been degeneration in some instances.
“We note with concern the growing number of not-so-great interventions by provinces in municipalities. Of great concern is the repeat interventions. This strengthens a point that has been made that more often than not, the interventions are used as an instrument to achieve political ends,” he said.
The National Council of Provinces has reflected on the worrying trend, saying there was no uniformity in the implementation of Section 139.
“Some municipalities emerge from Section 139 worse than before. Sometimes the interventions occur late and there is failure to use the provisions of the Financial Management Act and the provinces seem not to be keen to establish warning systems and act accordingly. It is our view that many of the triggers of intervention would not be there if the spheres of government were cooperating with one another in mutual trust and good faith.
He said the NCOP was concerned that the failure to advance the obligations, might suggest a tendency to simply want to take over the powers of local government.
“We must work together and ensure that we don’t usurp municipal powers – directly or indirectly. Local government is about restoring the dignity of our people,” he said, adding that this had been achieved to an extent.