Two decades of lo­cal gov­ern­ment trail­blaz­ing

The SA Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion helped ad­dress de­vel­op­men­tal re­quire­ments of a ci­ti­zenry with large

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More than a year be­fore South Africa’s first demo­cratic elec­tions were held in April 1994, ground­break­ing in­terim mea­sures were in­sti­tuted to ir­re­vo­ca­bly steer the coun­try along a path of that was man­i­festly characteristic of the purest dis­til­la­tion of democ­racy. One of these mea­sures was the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Tran­si­tion Act of Fe­bru­ary 1993, a law that, in lib­er­at­ing will and pro­gres­sive in­tent, echoed the re­ver­ber­at­ing grav­i­tas of the un­ban­ning of the ANC and other or­gan­i­sa­tions in Fe­bru­ary 1990.

That the “peo­ple shall gov­ern” a fu­ture South Africa be­came in­creas­ingly clear, and for such an act to be en­acted be­fore South Africa even had an in­terim con­sti­tu­tion (only adopted in Novem­ber 1993), serves to un­der­score the un­stop­pable tra­jec­tory of South Africa’s po­lit­i­cal progress in the early 90s.

More im­por­tantly, the act paved the way for the Na­tional Sum­mit for Or­gan­ised Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment in Novem­ber 1996, which in it­self opened the door to the for­ma­tion of the SA Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion (Salga).

Speak­ing at the sum­mit, then pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela, a heart-and-soul pro­po­nent of com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor pol­i­tics, es­poused the demo­cratic sig­nif­i­cance of mu­nic­i­pal ubuntu.

“This sum­mit will be re­mem­bered as a mile­stone in the his­tory of or­gan­ised lo­cal gov­ern­ment,” he said, adding that his “ex­pe­ri­ence is that many im­por­tant de­ci­sions take too much time to reach grass­roots level”.

Re­build­ing a deeply di­vided so­ci­ety from the ground up was, for Madiba, “the essence of Masakhane [mean­ing, ‘let us build to­gether’] – a good re­la­tion­ship be­tween the peo­ple and the gov­ern­ment”.

Man­dela re­it­er­ated that the man-on-the-street im­pe­tus of lo­cal gov­ern­ment, with its im­plicit in­ter­sec­tions be­tween coun­cil­lors and con­stituen­cies, “will help make trans­parency a key as­pect of the daily func­tion­ing of lo­cal gov­ern­ment”.

Speak­ing at the same sum­mit, the then min­is­ter of pro­vin­cial af­fairs and con­sti­tu­tional devel­op­ment, Mo­hammed Valli Moosa, con­tex­tu­alised the sig­nif­i­cance of the sum­mit as a key point on “the long road to the democrati­sa­tion and em­pow­er­ment of this coun­try.”

Moosa added: “At the heart of 1996 Con­sti­tu­tion are the pro­vi­sions of chap­ter 3 deal­ing with co­op­er­a­tive gov­er­nance. It is clear that re­la­tions be­tween or among spheres of gov­ern­ment have at their foun­da­tion col­lec­tive de­ci­sion-mak­ing, con­sul­ta­tion and ac­tion.”

Lofty praises aside, a lot of hard work awaited the nascent or­gan­i­sa­tion, and, as is stated in a ret­ro­spec­tive re­port, the role for lo­cal gov­ern­ment and Salga had to be de­fined, high­light­ing the pow­ers and func­tions en­vi­sioned for it.

In pur­suance of man­dates iden­ti­fied un­der what is known as or­gan­ised lo­cal gov­ern­ment of sec­tion 163 of the Con­sti­tu­tion, the scope of ex­pected in­ter­ven­tions at or­gan­ised lo­cal gov­ern­ment level ex­panded ex­po­nen­tially, cast­ing in sharp light the triple chal­lenge of ad­dress­ing poverty, un­em­ploy­ment and in­equal­ity.

In ad­di­tion, Mpho Nawa, the deputy chair­per­son of Salga, wrote that it was “nec­es­sary for lo­cal gov­ern­ment to ad­dress the de­vel­op­men­tal re­quire­ments of a ci­ti­zenry with large his­tor­i­cal asym­me­tries in ac­cess to skills devel­op­ment, ba­sic ser­vices and eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties”.

Some of the key find­ings from the over­view in­clude:

Salga’s key ob­jec­tives re­main lob­by­ing and ad­vo­cat­ing for and rep­re­sent­ing the lo­cal gov­ern­ment, cre­at­ing em­ploy­ment and ca­pac­ity, pro­vid­ing sup­port and ad­vice, do­ing strate­gic pro­fil­ing, and fa­cil­i­tat­ing the shar­ing of knowl­edge and in­for­ma­tion.

Now in its 20th year, Salga’s evo­lu­tion and progress, of­ten­times af­fected by ex­ter­nal, hard-to-con­trol sit­u­a­tions, means that it has only been func­tion­ing as a co­he­sive en­tity from 2012 on­wards.

In the set­tling process, Salga has man­aged to grow in in­come, in­flu­ence, ef­fec­tive­ness and in­sti­tu­tional pres­ence in in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal fo­rums and the me­dia.

As the or­gan­i­sa­tion sharp­ened its fo­cus and suc­ces­sive lead­er­ship, and in­tro­duced mea­sures to im­prove per­for­mance and mon­i­tor­ing sys­tems, Pub­lic Fi­nance Man­age­ment Act re­port­ing, con­di­tions of em­ploy­ment and pro­gramme ef­fec­tive­ness, it has had to adapt to chang­ing ex­ter­nal en­vi­ron­ments while deal­ing with fi­nan­cial is­sues gen­er­ated by its own in­sti­tu­tional set­tling.

Even with proac­tive change agents such as cur­rent chair­per­son Parks Tau at the helm, Salga is a vi­tal in­sti­tu­tion that re­mains ham­strung by the his­tor­i­cal con­di­tion of un­der­fund­ing.

Nawa con­cludes his re­view by say­ing that even with ma­jor im­prove­ments to its rev­enue col­lec­tion sys­tems and gen­eral fi­nances since 2007, the ex­tent to which struc­tural un­der­fund­ing re­mains a se­ri­ous is­sue is still cause for con­cern.

Na­tional Coun­cil of Prov­inces hosts Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Week in part­ner­ship with the SA Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion

PHOTO: DENZIL MAREGELE

KEY PAR­TIC­I­PANT Former pro­vin­cial af­fairs and con­sti­tu­tional devel­op­ment min­is­ter Mo­hammed Valli Moosa

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