President of the South African Local Government Association, Councillor Thembisile Nkadimeng
Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, His Excellency Honourable David Mabuza
Members of the National Executive Committee of SALGA
Ladies and gentlemen
Programme Director, many countries across the globe and international institutions such as the United Nations have great admiration for the Constitution of South Africa. One of the reasons for this is the manner in which our Constitution treats the question of the local sphere of government, which consists of municipalities.
Under our Constitution, a municipality has the right to govern, on its own initiative, the local government affairs of its community, subject to national and provincial legislation.
As many would know, this is not the case in some other jurisdictions. For example, while in most Middle East/North Africa countries the establishment of municipalities dates back to the Ottoman Empire and colonial administrations, it is just over a decade ago that a gradual shift in decision-making power from national level to sub-national levels has taken place. In general, the central governments in the region retain substantial powers to intervene in local affairs.
I therefore feel highly honoured at the invitation to participate in SALGA's Special National Assembly held under the theme Guiding the Transition: An opportunity to renew as we usher in the 5th Term of Democratic and People Centred Local Government. I will address myself to the topic Working Together to Achieve the Developmental Outcomes of Local Government.
It is worth noting that this engagement takes place at a time when South Africa celebrates 25 years of the adoption of the Constitution. This context includes an economy that is not performing to expectation - high levels of unemployment, inequality, poverty, crime, Covid-19 and the scourge of corruption.
It is this Constitution that establishes local government as a distinctive sphere of government, which is interdependent and interrelated with national and provincial spheres of government. This arrangement was reinforced through the development of a range of governance instruments aimed at strengthening local government. These include the Local Government: Municipal Structures Act of 1998 and the Local Government: Municipal Systems Act of 2000 as amended.
Both the Municipal Structures and Municipal Systems Acts provide respectively for:
The establishment of municipalities in accordance with the requirements relating to categories and types of municipality;
Division of functions and powers between categories of municipality; and
The core principles, mechanisms and processes to enable municipalities to undertake social and economic upliftment of local communities, amongst other things.
In order to appreciate the transformative role of local government in our society over the years, one needs to take cognisance of the fact that before 1994 apartheid legislation had, amongst other things, enforced residential separation. This resulted in the establishment of, for example, Coloured, Indian and Black Councils in cities like Johannesburg. Needless to say, these did not have the necessary resources to properly service the people.
As many would know, apartheid planning was intended 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 and meaningfully participate in the economy.
The democratisation of the space, the governance systems and processes of local government, led to the integration of poor local authorities with those that had the tax base to support development. This became a game changer in leveraging development in some of the traditional black areas. It resulted in the building of some world-class facilities in some townships: infrastructure programmes and the general rehabilitation of the environment. All of this helped to change the face of many cities and towns around the country. Surely some lessons can be learned from this.
It is fair to acknowledge that while development took shape in many parts of the country, degeneration also set in.
Programme Director, in addition to placing local government at the centre of social and economic development, the Constitution also advances the principles of co-operative government and intergovernmental relations. Amongst other things, it enjoins the three spheres of government to co-operate with one another in mutual trust and good faith by -
fostering friendly relations;
assisting and supporting one another;
informing one another of, and consulting one another on, matters of common interest;
co-ordinating their actions and legislation with one another;
adhering to agreed procedures; and
avoiding legal proceedings against one another.
This constitutional injunction should be understood against the fact that the Constitution envisages the Republic of South Africa as one, sovereign, democratic state.
Therefore, it is of utmost importance that in exercising their powers the three spheres of government should do so in a manner that does not encroach on the geographical, functional or institutional integrity of government in another sphere. The National Council of Provinces is constitutionally mandated to play a critical oversight role with regard to the protection of the integrity of the three spheres of government and promotion of effective government.
However, we note with increasing concern the growing number of not so great interventions by provinces in municipalities. Of great concern is the increase in the number of repeat interventions. This strengthens the point that has been raised from time to time in our engagements that, often than not, the interventions are used as an instrument to achieve political ends. As the NCOP, we have for some time now reflected on the worrying trend that:
There is no uniformity in the application of Section 139 across provinces or within a province;
Some municipalities emerge from Section 139 interventions worse than before;
Sometimes the interventions occur late into the process;
There is failure to use the provisions of the Municipal Finance Management Act; and
The provinces do not seem to be keen or able to establish early warning systems and to act accordingly.
It is our view that many of the issues that trigger an intervention would not be there if the spheres of government were co-operating with one another in mutual trust and good faith, as provided for in the Constitution. Our concern is that this failure to advance these constitutional principles might suggest a tendency to simply want to take over the powers of local government.
Programme Director, our Constitution, which is the envy of many people across the world, directs that we must work together. This is clear in Section 154 (1), which provides that the national government and provincial governments, by legislative and other means, must support and strengthen the capacity of municipalities to manage their own affairs, to exercise their powers and to perform their functions.
It is therefore imperative that we ensure that all our efforts are directed towards empowering and assisting our municipalities and not to seek to usurp their powers.
Local government is about restoring the dignity of the people. We have seen this through, for example:
The conversion of dusty roads into tarred roads as a means to contribute to development;
Building decent and habitable environments;
Turning our local areas into nodes of development; and
Promoting local innovation to address local challenges.
It is my view that one of the best ways to fast-track development and learning is through undertaking pilot experiments which enable the gathering of knowledge within a short space of time. We also need to be open to learn from the experiences of others. As the saying goes, life is too short to learn from your own mistakes. Repeating mistakes over and over again suggests something else.
One of the persisting challenges that face a number of municipalities and which impact development, is the inability to raise revenue and lack of capacity to manage finances. This is particularly the case with many rural municipalities that have poor revenue base and also experience difficulties with attracting talent.
Observers have noted that despite population shifts from rural to urban areas, the health and wellbeing of the entire population will continue to depend on rural goods and services - a reminder that rural areas do matter.
The National Development Plan suggests that a strategy and / or plan should be developed to enhance the developmental role of small towns in rural economies, with a focus on economic viability, sustaining public services, skills development, the green agenda and connecting infrastructure. This is of course easier said than done, but equally so, it is not an impossibility.
My own experience in municipal governance has taught me that if we want to pursue sustainable development, we must stay focused. It is through the adoption of a programmatic approach to development that we can be able to stay the course. My view is that a programme-based approach is an effective option if we are to address the developmental needs of municipalities.
A programme-based approach permits the generation of ideas before any deliberation on the resources that will be required. It creates the possibility to take up the challenges, analyse them, and develop ideas to resolve them. Ideation, or the generation of an idea, should be the first step in the planning process. We cannot solve our problems in a sustainable manner by putting money first. That is akin to putting the proverbial horse before the cart. Let us think and think big.
Programme Director, we appreciate the role being played by SALGA in the proceedings of the NCOP. This role has increased over the years. It is a clear demonstration of how we can work together to achieve the development of local communities. We would like to see the further deepening of this in all the key facets of the work of the NCOP, particularly in view of the need to deal with post-Covid reconstruction and recovery.
On the part of the NCOP, we are committed to taking up many of the issues that SALGA has been raising with us. These include, but not limited to, the issues raised by SALGA during the Local Government Week held in 2020. It is our view that some of the issues raised, such as the functionality and effectiveness of the two-tier system of local government, are structural and require engagement at a political level. However, we are happy to continue to interrogate them until a solution is found.
We share the view proposed by SALGA during the last Local Government Week, for the establishment of a team that will pursue the resolution of all identified matters. A multi-disciplinary team, at the core of which should be the representatives from the NCOP, SALGA, the National Treasury and the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, would be a step in the right direction.
The team should be able to categorise the issues into those that are doable immediately, so that we can focus on them, and those that will need further political consultation to explore further and crystallise for special attention and focus.
We trust that the new District Development Model, which consists of a process by which joint and collaborative planning is undertaken at local, district and metropolitan levels by all the three spheres of government, will help us to enhance the observance and adherence to the constitutional principles of co-operative government and intergovernmental relations. It may also provide us with a new template to resolve the challenges currently faced by municipalities.
We are alive to the need to support the implementation of the District Development Model through the insights we gain from our oversight work.
Programme Director, the Constitution provides a canvass for understanding and engaging local government. As we celebrate 25 years of the adoption of the Constitution, it is incumbent upon us to find ways of working together to support the development of our local communities. A programme-based approach is one of these. There are good examples of how we have harnessed the transformational power of the country's Constitution to intervene by improving the spaces in which our people live and work.
However, we have also seen some setbacks such as the degeneration of some of our urban centres, for instance, the failure to ensure cleanliness and weaknesses in supporting municipalities to manage their own affairs, to exercise their powers and to perform their functions. We acknowledge that through the NCOP, SALGA has raised many issues that are critical to development at local government level. We commit to taking up practical steps to work with SALGA and national government to have these matters interrogated and, where possible, resolved.
We need to remain eternally optimistic and work much harder to support struggling municipalities across the length and breadth of our country.
Programme Director, allow me to extend my utmost appreciation at the opportunity to address SALGA's Special National Members Assembly as we launch the transitional phase into the 5th term of democratic and people-centred local government.