The Cooperative Governance Minister promises "action" to clean up councils. But what exactly can he do about the mess that is local government?
It’s day two of Local Government Week, and today we heard the familiar refrain from a cabinet minister. Cooperative government Minister Sicelo Shiceka has now committed himself to making sure there are no more service delivery protests after 2014. Curiously, that’s also the year we go back to the polls for general elections. He wants clean audits of all muncipalities and efficient effective and accountable councilors. He probably also wants to move out of cloud cuckoo land.
He was speaking at the launch of a report on local government. The executive summary: it would be very difficult for things to be any worse. The report talks about the complete failure of accountability mechanisms (that’s because of a fully fledged culture of nepotism and cronyism). There is also too much “contestation” among elites. We prefer the blunt truth: in-fighting is killing local government.
Oddly, much of this sounds a lot like the President’s speech to mayors on Tuesday. It’s possible he had sight of some of this report before he spoke. What we do know, is that fixing local government is now the big issue in South Africa.
Unfortunately it will require more than political will. It’s going to take time, money, skills, wisdom and experience. It’ll take engineers, accountants, managers, and of course, lawyers. The country probably doesn’t have enough experienced managers to pull it off. So Shiceka runs a massive risk of going the way of Lindiwe Sisulu. Remember her claim that informal settlements would be gone by 2014? Go on, pull the other one.
However, the ANC has another card up its sleeve. It’s got to sell its promise to the people affected poor local services. To do so it is using one of its most interesting (and unpredictable) weapons on Julius Malema, a powerful conduit for anger. He’s great at being the angriest man in the room, and on Wednesday he’ll get the Sakhile township all fired up, show that he feels their pain, make some promises, then get back in his shiny car and head back to Sandton.
South Africa has always been kept stable by hope, sometimes just by the promise of hope. People will put up with anything if they know it’ll be better for their children. Malema will play on that, which will buy Shiceka some time. But in the end only delivery will calm the crowds.
By Stephen Grootes
(Grootes is Eye Witness News reporter)