DESPITE THE many successes that have been made since the amalgamation of municipalities, more still needs to happen to transform the local sphere of government, said South African Cities Network CEO Sithole Mbanga.
Speaking ahead of the Africities Summit, to be hosted by the City of Johannesburg from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3, 2015, Mbanga said this will require strategic partnerships with all sectors of society, from the private sector, non-governmental organisations right through to the media, as this will encourage public participation and contribute to development.
He said local government needs to be seen as an important sphere and it must be empowered with functions and resources that will help it deliver services more efficiently, and to enable municipalities to play their role competitively in the development of the state, particularly as we celebrate 15 years of local government in South Africa.
“We need a strong world, but a strong world needs strong cities, in the same manner those strong towns and localities require strong rural areas to survive,” he said. “In other words, there is a direct correlation between the performances of local governments to other spheres of governance.”
After the first draft of the “White Paper on Local Government” was released in 1998, by early 2000, apartheid-era and homelands administrations dismantled and were replaced by unified and decentralised governance system comprising of national, provincial and local government spheres.
The White Paper on local government, in particular, paid a lot of attention to the objective of building capable municipalities that can drive the country’s development through economic development, social inclusion and good governance which contributes to municipal financial self-reliance and viability.
According to the Department of Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation’s “20 Year Review” report, the number of municipalities were rationalised and went from 843 before 2000 to 283 just before the 2011 elections. A new fiscal framework was put in place to guarantee local government a share of national revenue, as well as putting policies and support structures in place to capacitate the sphere to deliver services.
Millions of residents who were excluded from receiving basic services during apartheid rule, have since been targeted for effective service delivery since the establishment of the new system of local government.
Between 1994-5 and 2011-12, access to sanitation improved from 50% of households to 83%. Water was made available from 60% of households in 1994-95 to over 95% 2011-12, while the number of households that were electrified increased from 50% to 86% in 2012/13.
In South Africa, metropolitan municipalities like Johannesburg, eThekwini and Tshwane, have rolled out sophisticated bus transit infrastructure and free wireless broadband connectivity at several hubs.
Mbanga says that these successes are noteworthy and encouraging, and added that a lot of work still needs to be done to encourage public participation, and to get citizens more involved in the development of their communities.
He also said the media was one of the partners who could play an educational role to inform members of the public how to participate in their respective municipalities to promote development.
“I think the media ought to be playing a participatory role in the transformation of society, and the same goes with the private sector, as well as with social partners. And that is what good governance means,” he said.