The municipal elections in November are taking place at an unprecedented time. The unemployment crisis continues to worsen, impoverished people are pushed to the margins of society and Covid-19 continues to destroy lives and livelihoods. And then there are the relentless looting and battles between ANC factions.
The 2019-2020 consolidated report on the results of local government audits by the Office of the Auditor General, Tsakani Maluleke, paints a worrisome and worrying picture of a failing local government system. Only 27 municipalities obtained impeccable audits, while there were 89 unqualified audits, 66 qualified audits, six unfavorable opinions and 12 disclaimers. Riddled with the deployment of executives, our municipalities are incompetent and corrupt.
Section 16 (1) of the Municipal Systems Act requires municipalities to “encourage and create the conditions for the local community to participate in the affairs of the municipality”. They must “contribute to building the capacity of the local community to enable it to participate in the affairs of the municipality”.
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The section clearly states that each municipality should develop a culture of governance that complements formal representative government with a participatory governance system. This culture should involve citizens in governance and decisions about how local needs might be met. Local government is supposed to be democratic and accountable to local communities, and it should encourage the involvement of communities and their organizations in matters of local government.
A key policy instrument to achieve this is legally mandated Integrated Development Plans (IDPs). Through these plans, local governments are expected to coordinate with provincial and national governments and involve local communities. They are supposed to facilitate community participation by finding sustainable ways to meet people’s social, economic and material needs and improve their quality of life.
Through the IDP process, communities are expected to be able to express their priorities and needs. This is a vision of participatory governance, but it is not confirmed by the experiences of poor and working-class communities. PDI meetings do not provide a space for meaningful participation. At best, they are a forum for anger to be expressed and politicians can pretend that the local government cares. But there is no way to shape the policy.
Talk to, not communities
The lack of genuine commitment manifests itself in three main ways. First, access to information and the scope of meaningful engagement in the process are very limited. The documents are written in English and many locals struggle to make sense of them.
Second, the choreography of these encounters is very problematic. Politicians sit at the front, their tables nicely covered and stocked with bottled water, while community members occupy ill-placed chairs. Politicians at the big table decide the agenda and chair the meeting, dictating the process in sometimes intimidating language and tone. There is no space for community input and questions from community members are often closed with contempt.
Third, these IDP meetings are not prioritized by politicians. They can be postponed or canceled at short notice, with little or no communication. If IDP meetings are crucial, what does it take to see them viewed with so little importance that politicians and officials often do not attend?
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Attempts by grassroots activists to organize and strengthen popular power in communities outside compromised official spaces such as the IDP process have often met with severe repression. The Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign, the first major popular movement to emerge in post-apartheid South Africa, was formed in Cape Town in November 2000 with the aim of “combating evictions, water cuts and poor health services, get free electricity. , guarantee decent housing and fight against police violence ”.
He has organized more than 10 communities to fight for essential services that fall under the jurisdiction of the municipality. Their members were harassed and imprisoned while the organization was targeted by the state, police and politicians. Max Ntanyana was only released from prison after activists raised enough money to hire a senior lawyer to take legal action to declare his arrest illegal.
Khanyisa Shange, named as a campaign leader, was jailed for five years after more than 300 members demanded that the local ward councilor be held accountable for their plight. Since then, other examples of grassroots organizations, such as the Abahlali baseMjondolo movement which has members in five provinces, have faced similar violence and hostility, rather than forms of democratic engagement.
Unfit for service
In Makana Municipality in the Eastern Cape, most people have lost confidence in IDP meetings and in the municipality in general. Instead of attracting the whole community, city officials focused on encouraging neighborhood committees and ruling party officials to attend meetings, not to engage but simply to get together. comply with the law.
These IDP meetings fall short of their stated goal: meaningful participation of people in governance. The process has become a farce and simply a performance of democracy as opposed to the real thing.
There are many other ways in which the Municipality of Makana expresses its contempt for the mandate to engage in participatory governance. For example, Makhanda’s high court made a landmark decision in 2020 that the council be dissolved due to its blatant breach of its constitutional obligations. It turned out that it was functioning so badly that it violated human rights.
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ANC councilors appealed the decision, but instead of asking the municipal leadership to fix the mess, the provincial executive joined them in the appeal. In the meantime, the Movement of the Unemployed, which had brought the case, collected 22,000 signatures in favor of the dissolution of the council. Compare this number with the mere 23,000 residents who voted in the last local elections in 2016.
The provincial council and executive were denied leave to appeal the High Court’s decision, but took it to the Supreme Court of Appeal, which granted their request in October 2020.
Despite the legal threat, the state of governance in the municipality has not improved. In the Auditor General’s report, Makana’s council received a warning, which is the worst possible audit result.
Take the place
In June of this year, Makhanda saw large-scale protests. Protesters gathered in Raglan Road Square for important talks. It was a truly democratic space and decisions were made democratically. The participants demanded that the prime minister, Oscar Mabuyane, come to the plaza to explain the shocking state of governance and decay in the municipality.
There is no reason why an elected prime minister, who is bound by law and the Constitution, should refuse to meet with the public. But politicians viewed the square and the public as rogue and disruptive elements that posed a threat to democracy. They have shown that they believe ANC politicians and government officials should be accountable only to the ruling party – in fact, to faction-specific politics and corruption patterns within the party.
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Every effort has been made to assert control from above. Mabuyane refused to attend but sent a lower-level official, executive board member for cooperative governance and traditional affairs, Xolile Edmund Nqata, who then insisted on meeting with the leaders rather than the public.
This was refused and people insisted that Mabuyane and Nqata both come to the square. It was an important demand, decided freely, and the protesters insisted that they “will not be moved” in person. Nqata refused and asked the police to disperse the crowd.
Later, a meeting was called between the provincial government and the public, but only in the form of a few hand-picked community leaders – bodies aligned with the ANC – without clear powers.
Then Makana’s council obtained a court order against the closure, with every event – even disruptions that were not controlled by participants in the democratic process in the square – blamed on the “instigators.” This put prominent participants in the process instead for a prison sentence. The local police station was listed as a respondent, which laid the groundwork for police to brutalize people for summoning their own imbizo and holding the state to account.
These steps were taken to prevent people from building their own processes and providing a democratic space for conversation and decisions outside of the state.
By acting in these undemocratic, corrupt and irresponsible ways, the local political elite continue to invoke the flag of “democracy”. Councilors, they say, have a mandate through elections, unlike protesters and petitioners. The High Court’s ruling is an attack on “democracy”, which is once again seen to be based solely on elections. And the actions against the demonstrators are presented as protecting “democracy”.
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For these politicians, they are elected with all the rights to govern. Therefore, any form of leadership or government external to them is seen as a threat to democracy and must be defeated. This is a form of top-down rule, which makes people nothing but subordinates into irresponsible “leaders”.
In a true democracy, people must be able to participate fully in the governance of their day-to-day affairs. They should not, as Frantz Fanon warned, be sent “back to their caves” by politicians and called out only once every five years to vote which faction of the political class will decide their fate for them. next five years.
It is not democracy. It’s a joke. The current model has failed. We must build an independent democracy outside the state.