South African Local Government Association (Salga) president Bheke Stofile stressed on Monday that there needs to be a “radical shift” in municipalities, as nonpayment increasingly hinders service delivery.
In his 2023 State of the Nation Address President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that 163 out of 257 municipalities were dysfunctional or in distress.
In an exclusive interview with Polity to discuss recent developments and challenges in local government, Stofile stressed that nonpayment was a challenge, as was merging struggling municipalities with different funding requirements.
“Yes, there will be problems because our systemic way of consolidating these municipalities didn’t look into potential dangers and risks into the future,” said Stofile.
The country has witnessed unrest in various municipalities including the Maluti-a-Phofung municipality in the Free State, where municipal employees embarked on a strike as a result of nonpayment.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions recently condemned nonpayment and that most municipalities were reportedly prioritising paying service providers over municipal worker salaries.
Stofile said that his organisation had launched a nationwide civic responsibility campaign Asisho! Let's Say It! to renew the “social contract” between citizens and municipalities.
Mayors and municipal managers were struggling as there was not enough income to run municipalities, he said.
He noted that the White Paper on Local Government, which was written 25 years ago, assumed that local governments were going to be able to fund themselves through payments for services like water, refuse collection and electricity.
“In 1998 when the paper was written, the conditions were not the same as today as many people were in one way or another employed, participating in the economy. There was an assumption of growth at the time and thereby a belief that 90% of municipal services would then be able to fund themselves. Now 25 years down the line, it became crystal clear that assumptions that were made at the time did not factor in the unemployment rate that stands at 47% today, the inequality, and that many people with qualifications are unemployed,” he said.
A better governance system responsive to challenges was needed, he said.
Stofile stressed that there was a need to think broadly when taking decisions so that these positively impacted government processes.
When Polity enquired about the killing of councillors, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal (recent reports revealed that 19 councillors had been killed in two years), Stofile warned that South Africa is gravitating towards a mafia-run State.
He explained that councillors lived within the municipalities they served and were, therefore, easy targets as they, at times, had to oppose tender appointees, which could “create enemies”.
“What we are saying as Salga is that there should be a different thinking about how we deal with these issues affecting councillors.”
He stated that there was no regard for life because people were “fighting for survival” and in the midst of all those complications, it affected municipalities.
“What we should be worried about is the erosion of Ubuntu,” he said.
LAWS AND MUNICIPAL BY-LAWS
When asked about the partnership Salga had entered into with City of Johannesburg following the Marshalltown building fire, Stofile said over the years Salga has been calling for different spheres of government to work together.
Salga is working with City of Johannesburg and stakeholders to mitigate risks and strengthen and enforce by-laws.
“Through the cooperative ability of different spheres of government and society, we can make a difference in the conditions that are faced by our communities. Working together with the City of Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and other municipalities, as Salga working with the provincial government, it helps to put both resources (human and financial resources) in dealing with the challenges in the communities,” he said.