Huge effort needed to halt decline of local govt, turn things around - experts

With the local government elections just days away, an expert said that it was up to voters to choose people who wanted to serve communities and weren't just looking to line their pockets.

The ANC launched its local government elections manifesto in Tshwane on 27 September 2021. Picture: Abigail Javier/Eyewitness News

CAPE TOWN - In spite of its dismal track record, the African National Congress (ANC) is likely to be returned to the helm in most municipalities across the country, although coalitions are again likely in key metros like Johannesburg, Tshwane, and Nelson Mandela Bay.

The party has pledged it will do better, as it appealed to voters to support it come 1 November. The country's biggest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (ANC), was meanwhile punting its track record of good governance in the municipalities that it controls.

But whoever wins, it will take a mammoth effort to halt the decline of local government and turn things around. End the toxic factional battles and stop the rent-seeking and corruption. That's the message from Professor David Everatt of the Wits School of Governance.

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"The Defend our Democracy campaign is saying we're approaching a stage where criminal kingpins are deciding who is going to be the mayor in their local towns," he said.

Everatt said part of the reason for the "rotten politics" in local government was that people were able to act with impunity, secure in the knowledge that they had political protection, for whatever they did.

"No-one seems to be able to reel in corruption at the local level - that includes you and I, because we keep voting, but above all, it is about the local sphere being able to be held to account."

But there are also deep systemic problems, not least a funding model that's based on assumptions made when it was drawn up 20 years ago.

Professor Jaap de Visser of the Dullah Omar Institute at the University of the Western Cape: "The funding model for local government needs to be revised. Rural municipalities, in particular, are under a lot of strain financially and many of them are simply not viable on the current model.”

"And in terms of inter-governmental relations, the rest of government and state-owned entities must take local government more seriously. Eskom takes the most wild decisions, sometimes, that affect local governments, without consulting them," he added.

With the local government elections just days away, De Visser said that it was up to voters to choose people who wanted to serve communities and weren't just looking to line their pockets.

"The most important thing is for political parties and ultimately, also voters, to choose people with integrity that are there for the right reasons and not for their personal interests. I do think that the quality of leadership is where we are lacking the most."

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