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South Africans are revolting against inept local government

Why it matters.
Failures by municipalities to do their work are forcing many residents to take matters into their own hands. Image: EFE-EPA/Nic Bothma

A sea change is under way at local government level in South Africa, one which all political parties had better watch out for. Citizens’ groups are taking control of municipal functions, some with the support of courts, and are delivering services where this sphere is collapsing.

The trend is being driven by voters who are sick of corrupt politicians – as every poll makes clear. For example, a poll run in late 2019 showed growing mistrust in political parties and politicians. There was a deep-seated belief that the country was headed in the wrong direction. Over 80% of respondents thought corruption was increasing.

The sad state of the local sphere has been lamented by many, not least the late Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu. He noted in 2018 that “on average almost 60% of the revenue shown in the books will never find its way into the bank account”, raising the alarm that such rampant corruption and incompetence would inevitably result in a growing revolt against rates and taxes.

The consequence has been precisely that – talk of withholding rates and taxes, and going further to simply do what has to be done – but which government seems incapable of doing. The “gatvol” (fed-up) tipping point seems to be upon us.

Growing discontent

It is against this background that the country will have local government elections, currently scheduled for August this year.

Soon the media will be replete with pundits talking about the low turnout that generally affects local elections. Some will touch on the way all parties are commonly “punished” at local rather than national elections, others will talk to the winners, losers and likely coalition partners. All this will be pretty predictable. Some of it may even be correct. But something more subterranean and interesting is happening.

There has been growing discontent with many local authorities. In some this has gone as far as concerned citizens successfully calling for the municipality to be dissolved and put into administration, as happened in Makhanda in the Eastern Cape province in 2020.

Elsewhere, citizen groups have found other ways of simply taking matters into their own hands. Instead of just moaning, people are taking action.

Events in Kgetlengrivier Local Municipality, in the platinum-rich North West province, have shown just how serious the situation has become.

In December 2020, in what was described as an “astonishing judgment”, a judge in the North West High Court ordered the imprisonment of the municipal manager of Kgetlengrivier for 90 days. The sentence was suspended on condition that sewage spilling into the Elands and Koster rivers be cleared up.

Remarkably, the judge also gave the residents’ association the right to take control of the area’s sewage works, and to be paid by local and provincial governments for its efforts.

The local residents duly took over the job of clearing sewage, successfully.

The legality of this will be tested on appeal, and may well be overturned by a more risk averse higher court. But the seeds have been sown, and national government seems to agree – national ministers were respondents in the case, and did not appeal. And the governing African National Congress (ANC) had better be careful – most of the places where these events are occurring are in ANC-held municipalities.

Take events in Harrismith in the Free State, were residents also took over fixing the sewerage; or Umdoni Municipality in Scottburgh, in KwaZulu-Natal, where residents are threatening to stop paying rates. In Graaff-Reinet, in the Eastern Cape, residents have objected to increases in municipal rates, frustrated by the broken down sewerage system and other municipal services.

This could be construed as anarchy. And it may well be. But anarchy is often criticised and used as a pejorative – a “descent” into anarchy – rather than analysed or understood as one possible “ascent” from a corrupt and coercive politics. It means something along the lines of a belief in abolishing all government, and organising residents on a voluntary, non-coercive, cooperative basis.

And this is happening, across the country, from withholding rates and taxes to taking over key service delivery functions.

South Africans may be leading themselves from the trough of corruption to something much more interesting, contested and dangerous to a young democracy. When an entire sphere of the state is close to dysfunctional and can have its power, functions and revenue turned over to citizen groups because of incompetence or malfeasance, something is very seriously wrong. Yet political parties still want voters to trust them, come election time.

Loss of trust

Trust in all spheres of government is close to rock bottom, as is trust in political parties. In the last Ipsos poll, no party was trusted by a third of its own supporters. The opinion voters have of politicians could not be lower, matched by pessimism: less than half of respondents felt the country was heading in the right direction.

The final straw may well have been watching with revulsion as the most politically connected stole money meant for life-saving Covid-19 protective equipment.

Talk of withholding rates and taxes has now become commonplace. Community groups have been seeking legal advice on withholding rates and are sharing legal opinions about the issue. Why pay, if your money is merely going to be “eaten”? This is now backed up the North West High Court ruling. Who needs government?

If pollsters want to understand where South Africa is going, it seems that measuring political parties and their campaigns is perhaps necessary – much as a visit to the dentist is necessary – but it may miss the point.

They should be polling those who no longer care about the local sphere, and who see themselves as constituting a more legitimate and, frankly, competent part of the governance infrastructure. And while taps run dry, power cuts continue due to corruption or incompetence, and no politician has yet been jailed, who is to say they are wrong?The Conversation

David Everatt, Professor of Urban Governance, University of the Witwatersrand

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.


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I would like to revolt against an inept country and leave.

INEPT “LOCAL” GOVERNMENT???????????????????????? What about the inept government that is filled with friends, relatives, swamp creatures and those with the old “stall WART” names that never seem to go away???????????????

The ANC and inept government will forever be inextricably linked.

Dear Zokey l hear you but our priority must be to sort out local government first as that affects our daily lives to a greater extent. At least we can take action against local government now as opposed to national who we can only vote against every 5 years

They voted them into power, now they revolt, but still vote for them?
Internationaly, if a ruling party gets 60% of the vote in the new elections, it means the population is very satisfied with that party’s ruling style and thus are very happy with how things are going.

Can probably pen a similar piece on the voters in ’92 referendums being the first ones to emigrate

The local government is not a separate entity from the local people. The laws that govern municipalities ensure that they are a representation of the local community.

Municipalities were very efficient service providers when it reflected the mindset of property owners in that community. When the system changes to include voters who do not own property, the state of the municipality will reflect that new situation. It is not about the capital of property ownership. It is about the vast difference in mindset and attitude between those who own property and those who don’t.

The current state of devastation at municipalities and the implosion of service delivery is the logical consequence of the collectivist attitude. No court can insulate voters from the consequences of their mindset and actions, unless all these services are privatised and put under the control of private property owners once again.

Economic contraction, rising unemployment, decaying sanitation and health services, and social degradation are the logical consequences as a society moves away from a system of property rights towards a system of collectivism.

The rulung political system detetermines and guarantees that sewage will run down the streets, into the drinking water and that municipalities will implode. The constitution oversees this logical process. After 26 years of ANC rule, we are living in the results of the Freedom Charter.

So what is the alternative. Property owners are likely to be in the minority in SA for the forseable future.Either we bury our heads in the sand and try and continue to live in a bubble, or accept the reality and move out.

We do have alternatives. Every property owner has the opportunity to motivate his employees to ensure the viability of their own jobs by voting for the policies that support economic growth and sustainable wages. The people need to understand basic economic principles. If the employee is trustworthy and clever enough to hold the position, then that employee will be able to understand the implication of his political choices.

Many entrepreneurs succeed in this process of voter education. Enter into a honest and respectful conversation with you domestic worker, gardner, driver, factory worker, mine worker, farm labourer, middle management employee, shop steward, the lady at the till and citizens in general. Don’t underestimate the power of honest and respectful conversation. Be brave, accept the challenge and change the narrative.

My labourers regularly tell me how much they despise the stupidity and backwardness of the EFF and the ANC. I live in a DA province and a DA municipality where the sewage is seperated from the drinking water, in contrast with ANC municipalities where it goes down the same system.

This theory does not explain why some highly developed countries have low rates of homeownership, such as Switzerland at 43% (Thanks, Wikipedia). One can rent and still have a progressive mindset, presumably investing capital in other asset classes. I think it boils down to whether you are a net producer or net consumer of resources.

Both the NPA and political parties fail to tackle corruption and ineptitude. This is the logical consequence.

In Sandton our ward councilor is simply there to collect a salary, no action is taken when residents complain.

The only solution is to start voting for independent candidates. At least they are freed from political interference. Democracy is a fragile privilege that can easily be hijacked by bottom feeders.

I laugh at those signs of Sandton, “richest square mile in Africa” while dodging potholes, driving through sewerage and getting side-swiped at traffic lights that don’t work.

The promises made by the different political systems are irrelevant when it comes to delivery. It is the incentives that matter. Property rights incentivise accountability and the rule of law. It puts the consumer first. It rewards capital formation through prosperous and efficient municipalities.

Collectivism on the other hand, incentivizes the most unscrupulous individuals to plunder the shared resource at the maximum rate, before someone else gets the opportunity do do so. It is a race to the bottom, a recipe for poverty and disease.

Sewage will inevitably run down the streets where the ANC rules. This will be there only legacy. We do not have a human potential problem. We have an incentives problem.

I find merit in what you say, but would like to add a point: Lack of accountability for politicians, because of our system of proportional representation. We, as citizens, handed over our future to politicians/political parties and allowed them to sit around a table and hammer out how this country should be run. Politicians, being what they are, came up with an answer that suits them, but screws the country royally. Sure, the owners of capital assets will have a different approach to running the country than collectivists, but ultimately it be the ability of citizens to hold politicians to account that will make a long lasting difference.

Just compare ANC run municipalities against DA run municipalities… It’s like comparing Zimbabwe against Norway.. No comparison. ANC looting must stop!

Great Article,
We need to have a system whereby political parties and ministers need to qualify and made eligible for running local, regional, national government and departments.

Annual Automatic Disqualification:
Criteria 1: If previous growth rate is below 4%
Criteria 2: If previous Audit Report received less than 80% compliance.
Criteria 3: Unemployment Rate increases by more than 2%

The disqualification would mean that the party is banned for at least the next 12 months after the re-election of a new party.

South African Tax Payers are heavily burdened whilst political parties only account to the majority who are non tax payers for their re-election. This inequality ensures that the most incompetent have a disproportionate say as to who may spend the value that society generates.

So we have unemployed people with skills and motivation taking over from, and hopefully squeezing out, state-employed people with neither. If that’s anarchy, bring it on.

It is the same people voting for an inept ANC government. Change only come with a changed vote…

Better : Revolting against a revolting government ….

Money is what matters. Divert the money supply into a community setup account; and see the municipalities go into action.

I’ve been trying diligently now for weeks to get a single pothole filled on a very busy road in Joburg’s supposedly wealthiest suburb and have gotten NOWHERE. But let me fall behind in my rates and the threats come thick and fast.

And it’s not just local government, obviously.

The solution to fixing municipalities is simple and cost effective:

Pre 94 all city and town counsellor positions were honorary. They received no payment.

It attracted a class of counselor with business and life experience, that had the interests of the community at heart.

The saving in salaries can help to improve services, especially in the smaller municipalities.

End of comments.





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