local government

local government

  • Shiceka Urged to Get Message on Local Democracy

    The national debate is so taken with invented ‘policy shifts’ that it ignores those that are real. This is according to Steven Friedman, director for the Centre for the Study of Democracy, an initiative of Rhodes University and the University of Johannesburg.

    Friedman says that in a recent television interview, Cooperative Governance Minister, Sicelo Shiceka, endorsed two policy changes that could make local government more democratic and might give citizens less reason to engage in the protests that have dogged municipalities for four years.

    Friedman says however, a public debate, which has consistently misunderstood why there is local protest in the first place, has ignored the minister’s attempt to propose solutions.

    To read the article titled, “Shiceka gets the message on local democracy,” click here.

    <br /> Business Day
    Article link: 
  • Revitalising Public Participation

    With democracy being relatively new in South Africa, local government has had to undergo much institutional reform between 1994 and 2000. A key part of this overhaul has been the requirement for democratic processes in municipal decision-making methods between elections.

    Recently, government has been encouraging municipalities to have public participation units. Local government in South Africa is now required to implement forms of public participation, particularly around development planning and budgeting.

    The Local Government Municipal Systems Act of 2000 requires that municipalities “develop a culture of municipal governance that complements formal representative government with a system of participatory governance,” (Carrim, 2001: 14).

    Indeed, there is much to suggest that the recent emphasis on public participation in local government has a lot to do with the failure of local politicians to govern as prescribed under our laws. Hence, while institutions of participatory governance were established in 2000, the effort to institutionalise them came some five years later following a spate of country-wide protests.

    In the year preceding the 2006 local government elections, the Minister of Safety and Security reported some 5 085 protests against inept and corrupt local government nationwide (Robert, 2007). Recognition by government that this dissatisfaction was justified was implied by ‘Project Consolidate’, an initiative of the then national Department of Provincial and Local Government (DPLG), now Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CGTA), to redress the fact that “modes of interaction, engagement and support to local government are not having the desired impact on local government and communities,” (Joshua, 2007: 29).

    Notably, 48 percent of South Africa’s 284 municipalities made this list. In short, if the development of public participation policy in South Africa was motivated by lofty ideals, its recent implementation has been mostly a response to local governance failure.

    Basically, public participation is about allowing people to execute their most basic human right—the right to participate in decisions regarding their future, as stated in the South African Bill of Rights. So, what then is participatory governance?

    The White Paper on Local Government of 1998 suggests that “municipalities should develop mechanisms to ensure citizen participation in policy initiation and formulation, and the monitoring and evaluation of decision-making and implementation”.

    However, it is really only with the Municipal Structures Act of 1998 and especially the Municipal Systems Act of 2000 that participatory local governance was given institutional life. Where the Structures Act sets out the various structures of local government, including ward committees, the Systems Act outlines how they are to be used. More specifically, Section 16 obliges municipalities to “develop a culture of municipal governance that complements formal representative government with a system of participatory governance,” (Municipal Systems Act of 2000: 6).

    The most important innovation of public participation at local government level lies in the ward committee system. The Municipal Systems Act provides for ward committees to be established in each ward of a Category A or Category B municipality, if the municipality so chooses. Of late though, government has been suggesting that the ward committee system be made compulsory for all municipalities.

    Chaired by the ward councillor, ward committees are intended to consist of up to 10 people representing “a diversity of interests in the ward, with women equitably represented,” (Municipal Systems Act of 2000: 24). Ward committees may make recommendations on any matter affecting their wards. Notably, their primary function is to “create formal, unbiased communication channels between the community and the council,” (Friedman, 2005: 36). They are also required to mobilise the community to participate in service payment campaigns, development planning and budgetary processes, decisions about service provision, by-laws and the like.

    Additionally, participatory governance requires involvement of the public in core municipal processes like development planning, performance management, the budget and strategic decisions relating to services. In short, public participation is statutorily injected into the most important municipal processes. Government policy on how to engage with the public on these issues is quite limited, and usually manifests in the insistence of using ward committees. In practice, it seems this happens through the use of public meetings called by the mayor, also known as a mayoral izimbizo (public meeting).

    However, both ward committees and mayoral izimbizos are poor representations of the empowered and participatory institutions of this sort. Neither ward committees nor mayoral izimbizos have any decision-making powers, and certainly none over resources. These powers are expressly reserved in law for politicians and may not be delegated to ward committees.

    Perhaps more importantly, the deliberative role of both ward committees and izimbizos are practically confined. Although ward committees are meant to identify key issues affecting their ward and deliberate upon them, the failure to integrate ward committees explicitly into the decision-making or delivery processes of the local municipality means that there is little impact that they beyond merely deliberating.

    For example, in the Amahlathi municipality where the writer is currently facilitating capacity building workshops of ward committee members, some ward committee members have indicated that they have never attended any of the council meetings. Some of these ward committees have been operational since 2006.

    This is tantamount to breaking the law, especially when one considers the fact that the Municipal Structures Act of 1998 highlights that at least 75 percent of council meetings ought to be open to the public. Currently, they have no role in development planning or the budget process at municipal or local level, nor do they have any direct say on how officials deliver on these commitments.

    Currently, all ward committees do is to encourage the voice of ward councillors at the monthly council meetings. By design, a ward committee must transfer its deliberations through the ward councillor to the council. Should the ward councillor be incompetent, disinterested, or marginalised for some other reason, the ward committee’s deliberations will count for nothing.

    Indeed, a strong case can be made that ward councillors are the weakest of all councillors, due to the fact that the electoral system is only half constituency-based. The other half is proportional representation as guided by party lists. Notably, the senior party politicians in local government are almost always elected by party list and not from wards, so as to ensure their place in government. A consequence of this is that key political players, especially those who sit on the municipal executive, do not have ward committees. In effect then, ward committees are a participation mandate imposed on disempowered politicians.

    Arguably, since 1994 an attempt has been made to institutionalise public participation through various ‘invited spaces’. The idea is to complement the system of multi-party representative government with a form of community participation that draws on indigenous traditions of democratic practice. Unfortunately, these invited spaces are not really working. Rather than being forums for genuine community engagement with local leaders, they tend to be at best exercises in public relations, and at worst, sites for capture by political elites.

    In conclusion, as long as public participation in local governance remains limited to ward committees and izimbizos in their current form, it will be largely meaningless. With little incentive for citizens to participate in them, these structures will remain another space for dominant political entities to exert their will.

    Thabile Sokupa is Project Coordinator at Afesis-corplan. This article was first published in the August-September 2009 edition of The Transformer (link to http://www.afesis.org.za/the-Transformer/augustseptember-2009 ) and is republished here with permission from Afesis-corplan.


    Carrim Y (2001) ‘Bridging the Gap Between the Ideas and Practice: Challenges of the New Local Government System’ in Umrabulo, 10.

    Joshua, C. Deliberation and Democratic Legitimacy in David Estlund (ed).2007. Democracy. Maldon and Oxford: Blackwell.

    Robert, M. 2007. Democracy Without the People: Economics, Governance, and Representation in South Africa. Journal of Democracy, Vol 13 No 1, pp 5-21.

    Section 16(1) of the Local Government: Municipal Systems Act 32 of 2000. Department of Provincial and Local Government. Pretoria, South Africa.

    Friedman, S. 2005. On Who’s Terms: Participatory Governance and Citizen Action in Post-Apartheid South Africa? Paper presented at International Institute of Labour Studies Workshop ‘Participatory Governance: A New Regulatory Framework? 9-10 December, Geneva.
    Thabile Sokupa
  • Emergency Effort Needed to Solve Western Cape Housing Crisis

    It is good news that Tokyo Sexwale and Helen Zille have decided to bury the hatchet on the petty squabbling between the African National Congress (ANC) and Democratic Alliance (DA) (largely, let it be said, initiated by the ANC) over the N2 Gateway project and land allocation in the province.

    The spat has hampered housing delivery in the province. We are now told “the three spheres of government are to sit around one table to decide on the future of the project.” (‘Sexwale, Zille and city to decide on N2 Gateway’, August 10).

    But Sexwale, Zille, Dan Plato and their officials would be making a big mistake if they believed the future could be settled without involving beneficiary communities, through their representative committees, at the decision-making table.

    Unlike his predecessor as housing minister, Sexwale has at least already gone on walkabouts in N2 Gateway Phase 1 and the Joe Slovo informal settlement. But walk-abouts are not the same as meaningful involvement in decision-making.

    In the past “consultation” or “negotiation” for officials, meant merely informing beneficiaries of dogmatically set plans without any intention of altering them. What needs to happen is that the past needs to be rectified and the future of N2 Gateway planned with the beneficiaries rather than over their heads.

    There is a crisis in housing nationally and in the Western Cape. In Cape Town alone, there is a backlog of 400 000 houses, which is increasing by 18-20 000 a year, with only 8-9 000 houses built a year.

    On that basis, the housing backlog will never disappear. It is time for some bold and imaginative thinking.

    Let us recall that the Auditor-General’s special report on N2 Gateway found:
    • Parliament still has not passed the legislation underlying the project, though it was started in 2004;
    • The business plan for the project was not finalised before the start and was not available for audit;
    • Sufficient land was not secured before the start;
    • There was non-compliance with the prescribed requirement of listing the proposed beneficiaries in the final business plan;
    • Documentation was not consistent on qualifying criteria for proposed beneficiaries, especially the monthly household income requirement;
    • Affordable housing was not provided in Phase 1 for the target market identified (Joe Slovo informal settlement residents);
    • There was considerable “fruitless and wasteful expenditure” on the project – Parliament’s Scopa estimates up to R2 billion;
    • The initial building consortium (Cyberia Technologies) was sixth on the tender evaluation list, its appointment was not properly authorised and it had no contract;
    • Thubelisha Homes was appointed in 2006 to replace Cyberia without proper tender procedures or a contract. (Thubelisha has since gone bankrupt, replaced by the National Housing Agency).
    Deficiencies in construction of the Phase 1 flats mentioned in the Auditor-General’s report include:
    • The certificate of completion for the building contract issued by the principal agent was issued erroneously;
    • Compliance with registration and inspection procedures identified in various regulations could not be verified;
    • Instances were identified where “as built” specifications did not comply with minimum specifications for social housing;
    • There were deviations from contract specifications;
    • The large public stormwater canal constituted a foul health hazard; and
    • Site inspections revealed numerous cracks in the walls and floors, peeling paint, doors that were not fitted properly, loose fittings, uncovered drain pipes and blocked drains.
    This amounts to a morass of officially committed illegality. The beneficiaries have borne the consequences and need redress.

    For example, residents in Phase 1 have held a rent boycott for two years because of the defective housing and higher rates than they had been told to expect. They are being asked to pay exorbitant rentals to make up for the cost overruns and corruption in the construction of the flats.

    This is unfair.

    Recent Thubelisha head Prince Xanthi Sigcau has claimed that residents in the area were aware of the rentals when they moved in. But they moved in during a period of the transition in management from Cyberia to Thubelisha – well before Sigcau appeared on the scene.

    The residents claim Cyberia announced a rental rise from R350-R500 to R650-R1 050 without explanation and pressured them to sign contracts without even reading them. Phase 1 residents should have their rentals reduced to a mutually agreeable, affordable level. There are also reports that the management of Phase 1 is to be given to the Cape Town Community Housing Company (CTCHC), which since 1999 has been embroiled in complaints, about defective housing quality and exorbitant rentals, from tenants in nine villages. Why must CTCHC, with its appalling record, manage these flats? Why can’t the tenants assume co-operative management? In addition, why can’t some arrangement be made to transpose rents to reasonable bond payments, so that residents can eventually own their homes rather than rent for life?

    These ideas have been considered by the representative committee. They are the sort of ideas that Sexwale, Zille, Plato and their officials could consider implementing. The same applies to the residents of the Joe Slovo informal settlement, still under threat of forced removal to Delft, from which barely 12 percent of them will be able to return on the existing N2 Gateway plans.

    They are victims of the incompetence of Thubelisha.

    The Breaking New Ground housing policy, conceived in 2004, was supposed to break with apartheid-style city planning (blacks to the periphery) and practise upgrading in situ. Both provisions are being violated in the case of the residents of Joe Slovo.

    Two things need to be considered here – firstly, finding land in Langa, where they can be placed temporarily rather than in Delft -originally, in 2004/5 sites were identified in Langa/Epping but business owners threatened court action. These owners could be persuaded otherwise by Sexwale and Zille. Secondly, higher-density housing – even if this involves, as Plato has suggested, buildings that rise over several storeys. Medium-density housing is being considered in other townships. Both ideas have been considered by the representative committee in Joe Slovo, and they need to be brought into the planning process.

    The failures of N2 Gateway are largely of an ANC government (the DA was excluded from N2 Gateway shortly after taking office in the City of Cape Town). But both the DA and the ANC need to reconsider their housing policies.

    The occupation of N2 Gateway housing by Delft back yarders in December 2007 and the recent occupations of vacant municipal land in Macassar, Kraaifontein and elsewhere by equally desperate back yarders stems from the housing crisis in the city – with the backlog increasing every year. The city is again threatening to evict Delft back yarders from the shacks they have built on Symphony Way, just as it tore down the shacks of the Macassar occupants – an illegal act, covered up by the city applying resources superior to those of the residents.

    The Delft back yarders are all eligible for N2 Gateway houses, but when they submitted their applications, Thubelisha lost them. They engaged in a protest at a handover of N2 Gateway homes and Sigcau promised to deliver new forms but never did so. Now the city wants to condemn them to the prison-like temporary relocation area in Blikkiesdorp.

    The ANC may be imagining, in vain, that all informal settlements can be eliminated by 2014. It is equally foolish for the DA to try to implement a policy of zero tolerance for land occupations. Until sufficient housing can be provided, space must be allowed for the swelling urban population to build shacks on vacant land. It is incumbent on public bodies to provide such space. Otherwise the city will face overcrowding, resulting in more crime, drug abuse, and the abuse of women and children – all of which are against the policies of the DA and ANC.

    And while Sexwale, Zille, Plato and their officials are reconsidering housing policy – in conjunction with the beneficiaries of N2 Gateway and others – they might consider something else. Four-hundred-and-seventy-five thousand jobs have been lost this year due to the recession, adding to the more than 30 percent unemployment rate (including those discouraged from seeking work). Why not organise, through an expanded public works programme, emergency training for the unemployed (many have inadequate homes) men and women in bricklaying, carpentry, plumbing and so on, so that they can be employed to build the much-needed houses? Cosatu should put its weight behind such a plan.

    The current housing budget is only 1.5 percent of GDP as opposed to the developing country norm of 5-6 percent. With an emergency effort, spearheaded by the presidency, resourced through the treasury (Zuma has promised R2.4 billion to retrain the retrenched), and motivated by the beneficiaries, the nationally needed 2.2 million houses could be built quickly.

    Martin Legassick is Emeritus Professor at the University of the Western Cape and is active in the field of housing. This article was first published in the Cape Times and is republished here with permission from the author
    Martin Legassick
  • Johannesburg Poverty and Livelihoods Study

    The Johannesburg Poverty and Livelihoods Study is aimed at understanding the multi-dimensional nature and extent of poverty, and the way people survive and make a living in some poorest parts of the City of Johannesburg. Conducted by the University of Johannesburg, the study’s focus was to develop a more detailed analysis of the socio-demographic situation of households in deprived communities and their livelihood strategies.

    For more information and to download a free copy, click here.

  • What is wrong with development leadership in South Africa?

    The past few weeks have been the most dramatic period in the history of South Africa in the post-1994 period. With the election of Kgalema Motlanthe as the new President and the appointment of his Cabinet, relative calm has returned to the South African political landscape. However, many of the issues which have contributed to the developments of recent weeks will continue to shape and re-shape the national political scene in the run-up to the 2009 elections.


    Linked to the changes in South Africa’s political landscape is the ongoing call by trade unions and various political and civil society formations for a change in macro-economic policy and the adoption of more pro-poor policies.


    The new government inherits significant development challenges and pressure is mounting for increased service delivery and intensified efforts in the fight against poverty and unemployment.


    A key factor in this regard is the people and state institutions entrusted with the responsibility of leading development efforts in the country.


    Unfortunately, as much as there are calls for more social spending and government development interventions, state institutions with a development mandate are more often than not part of the problem and not the solution.


    In recent weeks the CEOs of two national development agencies, the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) and Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA), were fired or suspended for incompetence or misconduct. This follows the scandals and corruption at the Land Bank earlier this year, incompetence at the National Lottery Board in distributing funds to NGOs and community organisations, and frequent allegations of misconduct and corruption at various SETAs, provincial development agencies and local government structures.


    These incidents raise serious questions about the integrity and intent of the people entrusted with guiding development efforts in the country. Furthermore, it raises similar questions about the people responsible for making these appointments.


    What has happened to the notion that development work needs to be underpinned by a sense of commitment, ethics and serving others? What are these incidents telling us about the urgency with which government is tackling the development challenges facing our country?


    One can only hope that the same urgency with which the political landscape is being transformed will also apply to government development agencies.

Syndicate content