South Africa: The Paradox of Local Government - Sacrificing Service Delivery At the Altar of Equity


Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu's last report before he died identified a few municipalities whose accounts tell a 'good story of disciplined spending that achieves value for money'. Yet these cases are overshadowed by a general tale of regression, indicating that the model of post-apartheid local government has failed.

This November 25 and 26, I participated in a conference on 25 Years of Local Government. The topic sounds dry. However, there was nothing dry about it. The event was organised by the think-tank that I run, GAPP, and the South African Local Government Association (Salga). It brought together many of the people who 25 years ago helped design the current model of local government. (The conference videos can be seen here.)

The "system architects" came together over two days to discuss the system that they had designed and to reflect on how it had fared over two and a half decades. This is what made the event so special.

At one level it was a mea culpa and on another it was a celebration. And therein lies an unrelenting tension. Were we honouring achievements accrued over 25 years, or lamenting a catastrophe? Local governments are widely deemed to have failed spectacularly. Typically,...

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