Salga can bring our hopes and dreams to life

Ramaphosa speaks from the heart as he calls on civil so­ci­ety, or­gan­ised labour and busi­ness to work to­gether

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Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa couldn’t have said it bet­ter when he de­liv­ered the open­ing ad­dress at the fifth na­tional con­fer­ence of the SA Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion (Salga). Speak­ing at a packed Sand­ton Con­ven­tion Centre last week, he said: “You are our lead­ers in the sphere of gov­ern­ment that is clos­est to the peo­ple of our coun­try, but also clos­est to their chal­lenges, their hopes, their dreams, their as­pi­ra­tions, their so­ci­etal well-be­ing and also their fu­tures.”

It was a fit­ting and piv­otal point to a speech that, al­most to the word, echoed the ex­pres­sions of Mo­hammed Valli Moosa when he ad­dressed an in­au­gu­ral sum­mit of lo­cal lead­ers as min­is­ter of pro­vin­cial af­fairs and con­sti­tu­tional devel­op­ment.

That was back in 1996, when a gal­vanised gath­er­ing of coun­cil­lors, ea­ger to carve a con­sol­i­dated path for a vi­sion­ary fu­ture, laid the foun­da­tion for the for­ma­tion of Salga in eThek­wini, KwaZulu-Natal.

To think that it has al­ready been 20 years since that au­gust assem­bly agreed on as­pi­ra­tions and aims is al­most too hard to be­lieve.

Even harder to fathom are the chal­lenges that still face mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials. Chal­lenges that Ramaphosa’s speech suc­cinctly high­lighted: con­tin­u­ing trans­for­ma­tion; com­mu­nity safety and gen­eral so­ci­etal well-be­ing; job creation; the root­ing out of cor­rup­tion; and, last but cer­tainly not least, with a special em­pha­sis on its global im­port, the erad­i­ca­tion of HIV and Aids by 2030.

Look­ing out over the ex­pan­sive hall of coun­cil­lors, num­ber­ing 901 of­fi­cials from 225 coun­cils when the con­fer­ence got go­ing on Tues­day, Ramaphosa said: “Many of you present here were elected into of­fice soon after South Africa hosted the 21st In­ter­na­tional Aids Con­fer­ence in Dur­ban.”

On the eve of World Aids Day last Thurs­day, and re­fer­ring to the work of the Na­tional Aids Coun­cil, Ramaphosa em­pha­sised the “crit­i­cal role” mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have to play in the fight against “the global pan­demic”.

“It is at the mu­nic­i­pal level where there has to be a de­lib­er­ate ef­fort and di­rect ac­tion that we need to see progress in stem­ming the tide of HIV and Aids.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ramaphosa, some of the big­gest hur­dles lo­cal coun­cils face in en­abling the Na­tional Aids Coun­cil’s ef­forts are bar­ri­ers that block ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion and health­care.

“We need to en­sure that all our peo­ple have ac­cess to health­care, in­clud­ing peo­ple who live in in­for­mal set­tle­ments,” he said.

Un­afraid to put a fine point to it, Ramaphosa also stressed that over­com­ing so­cioe­co­nomic ob­sta­cles was es­sen­tial if “we are to suc­ceed in erad­i­cat­ing HIV and Aids by 2030”.

“A greater ef­fort is needed in the preven­tion of new in­fec­tions, es­pe­cially among ado­les­cent girls and women, where the in­crease is get­ting out of con­trol. We will only suc­ceed in our ef­forts if im­me­di­ate ac­tion, in a sus­tained fash­ion, is taken in ev­ery mu­nic­i­pal­ity and in ev­ery ward.”

But for mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to rise to the needs of the Na­tional Aids Coun­cil, Ramaphosa re­it­er­ated that “lo­cal coun­cils need to func­tion ef­fec­tively” and, for that to hap­pen, “they need to be led from the front by our may­ors”.

It wasn’t the only time Ramaphosa’s words were met by re­sound­ing ap­plause dur­ing the con­fer­ence, and cer­tainly not the only time he touched on the ur­gency of com­mu­nity care, par­tic­u­larly re­gard­ing curb­ing vi­o­lence against women and chil­dren.

Co­in­ci­den­tally, we’re also in the midst of one of this coun­try’s most im­por­tant ef­forts to se­cure the sanc­tity of our nur­tur­ers and our young – the 16 Days of Ac­tivism for No Vi­o­lence against Women and Chil­dren cam­paign be­gan on Novem­ber 25 and con­tin­ues un­til Satur­day.

Ear­lier in his speech, Ramaphosa re­ferred to women and chil­dren when, in speak­ing about the fight against crime, he said: “With a part­ner like Salga, we will en­sure that women and chil­dren do not have to risk vi­o­lence and rape be­cause of in­ad­e­quate street light­ning or hav­ing to use com­mu­nal toi­lets.” It was a pro­found sen­ti­ment con­sid­er­ing that Salga is a body that over­sees and calls into abeyance the im­por­tant work of lo­cal gov­ern­ment, and his words re­called the open­ing state­ments of Gaut­eng Premier David Makhura. Ad­dress­ing the au­di­ence just be­fore Ramaphosa did, Makhura didn’t mince his words when he said that “ev­ery sin­gle mu­nic­i­pal­ity should be un­der Salga, a most im­por­tant or­gan­i­sa­tion”. It was a thinly veiled ad­mo­ni­tion, clearly aimed at the walk­out of sev­eral op­po­si­tion-led coun­cils on the eve of the con­fer­ence. The walk-out prompted Makhura to add that those coun­cils not un­der Salga “shouldn’t ex­pect any sup­port from us”. Ramaphosa, of course, was far more con­cil­ia­tory, but with brevity and get­ting down to brass tacks, the coun­try’s act­ing pres­i­dent – he was stand­ing in for Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, who was at­tend­ing Fidel Cas­tro’s fu­neral in Cuba – took the cue from Makhura and spoke from the heart. Re­flect­ing on the past two decades of lo­cal gov­ern­ment, Ramaphosa said: “In many ways, we have seen where lo­cal gov­ern­ment doesn’t work. We have seen mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties desta­bilised by fac­tion­al­ism, mis­man­age­ment and the scram­ble for re­sources.

“But we have also, in the course of this, heard and seen sto­ries of coun­cil­lors who are com­mit­ted to their work and to ad­vanc­ing the in­ter­ests of our peo­ple.”

Ramaphosa ex­pressed con­cern that there were still “coun­cil­lors who are de­tached from their com­mu­ni­ties, are neg­li­gent of their du­ties and waste­ful of their re­sources. They give lo­cal gov­ern­ment a bad name. But we must has­ten to add that th­ese coun­cil­lors are in the mi­nor­ity.”

To per­haps the loud­est ap­plause of all, he added that what or­gan­ised lo­cal gov­ern­ment in South Africa needed most were “coun­cil­lors who are ac­count­able – coun­cil­lors who are go­ing to be re­spon­sive, who will find no task too triv­ial and who will up­hold the high­est stan­dards of eth­i­cal be­hav­iour”.

How­ever, as if put­ting his fin­ger on an ex­posed nerve, Ramaphosa gave un­equiv­o­cal voice to his dis­may at the “de­fault re­ac­tion” of the coun­try’s cit­i­zens, who see “the face of cor­rup­tion” in their coun­cil­lors. “We should change that nar­ra­tive,” he said. “That type of ref­er­ence should be com­pletely oblit­er­ated from South African lan­guage.”

The con­ven­tion centre echoed with uni­tary ap­plause.

It makes it all the more mean­ing­ful when some­one such as Ramaphosa, a prin­ci­pal ar­chi­tect of our Con­sti­tu­tion, says: “We look to Salga to lead our com­mu­ni­ties, and to re­claim our streets from the ter­ror of drug lords and gang­sters, and we look to this con­fer­ence in part to pro­vide con­crete pro­pos­als on how all South Africans can con­trib­ute to build­ing in­clu­sive, co­he­sive and suc­cess­ful com­mu­ni­ties.

“Th­ese pro­pos­als must lay the foun­da­tions of build­ing sus­tain­able lo­cal economies. We see mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in met­ros, cities and in ru­ral set­tings whose cen­tral pur­pose is job creation, build­ing sus­tain­able liveli­hoods and hu­man set­tle­ments.”

The role of stake­hold­ers in on­go­ing trans­for­ma­tion and com­mu­nity build­ing ef­forts also formed part of Ramaphosa’s as­sess­ment of the role of lo­cal gov­ern­ment.

All of th­ese, he pointed out, namely or­gan­ised labour, civil so­ci­ety and busi­ness, were re­quired “to mo­bilise re­sources to en­sure that we have max­i­mum col­lab­o­ra­tion to ad­vance the in­ter­ests of our peo­ple”.

Per­haps from an en­tre­pre­neur­ial point of view, and par­tic­u­larly given the need for job creation as an im­me­di­ate panacea for poverty, Ramaphosa’s most im­por­tant point came when he un­der­scored the vi­tal con­tri­bu­tion mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties could make as “in­cu­ba­tion cen­tres for our en­trepreneurs”.

“They should be­come the en­gines of eco­nomic growth and they should be cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment for faster, greater em­ploy­ment creation in our coun­try.”

Ul­ti­mately, it is up to elected lead­ers to live up to the “faith, trust and con­fi­dence” of vot­ers.

“They hope that you will work for an ac­tivist cadre of lo­cal gov­ern­ment lead­er­ship that will get out of the coun­cil chamber and of­fices, and walk the dif­fi­cult and rocky road of progress with them.”

It is from this very “rocky road” that a lot of coun­cil­lors have lost their way.

“In many ways, we have seen where lo­cal gov­ern­ment doesn’t work,” Ramaphosa said.

“We have seen mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties desta­bilised by fac­tion­al­ism, mis­man­age­ment and the scram­ble for re­sources.

“But we have also heard and seen sto­ries of how coun­cil­lors, who have been com­mit­ted to their work, have ad­vanced the in­ter­ests of our peo­ple.”

There can be no mis­take, Ramaphosa said, that for the most part, “lo­cal gov­ern­ment works, and it works well”.


COM­MIT­TED Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa

UNITED Gaut­eng Premier David Makhura (left) Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa (centre) and for­mer Jo­han­nes­burg mayor Parks Tau at the Salga con­fer­ence

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