The national department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) consistently trumpets ward committees as envisioned by section 73 and 74 of the Municipal Structures Act as a key platform for community participation in municipal affairs.
If these structures are to play their envisioned role, as the legislation intends, then it is essential that the procedures used to elect these structures are democratic, legitimate, fair and result in a genuine representation of the community interests of each ward. Sadly many of these committees have been hijacked and used as extensions of political parties rather than genuine community structures.
Last Sunday the eThekwini municipality, the largest metro in KwaZulu-Natal, convened ward committee "elections".
This was despite the fact that:
- in most instances only 2 days notice was given of the elections;
- the venues for the elections were not properly advertised;
- no mechanism was in place to ensure that a diversity of community interests were represented; and
- the elections fell on the religious Eid holiday, thereby precluding any person from the Muslim faith from participation.
Furthermore the reports that the DA has received from Councillors and community organisations alike, indicate widespread political manipulation and interference and wholesale exclusion of important sectoral interests.
The problems relating to ward committee elections are becoming endemic. In Tshwane, non-adherence to procedures around ward committee elections have prompted an investigation by the Public Protector. Last week, the Portfolio Committee on COGTA was informed that ward committee elections in Buffalo City has been declared null and void because proper procedure was not followed.
It is simply not tenable to continue with ward committees that lack legitimacy and do not fully represent genuine community interests.
The DA will therefore be writing to the Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional affairs, Richard Baloyi, to call on him to declare eThekwini elections null and void and to instruct the eThekwini municipality to reconvene these elections in a fair and democratic manner.
Given that these positions now attract a monthly stipend, the involvement of communities in electing their ward committee representatives must be maximised.
What happened in eThekwini was a gross violation of section 73 of the Structures Act and the flawed results cannot be allowed to stand.
John Steenhuisen, Shadow Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs