South Africa

Sanity Check

The strange gap between the DA’s election posters and its manifesto promises

The strange gap between the DA’s election posters and its manifesto promises
A DA election poster in Salt River, Cape Town, 27 February 2019. Photo: Daily Maverick

The DA has papered South African cities with election campaign posters which make decidedly bold claims. Voters are being promised two quite extraordinary things: a provincial police service, and provincial rail service. Both the police and trains fall under the control of national government, and for this to change would require a constitutional challenge, at the very least. Even more confusingly, the pledges found on the posters aren’t really reflected in the party’s manifesto.

This article was updated on 28 February to reflect DA comment.

A provincial police service. A provincial train service.

That’s what the DA is promising South African voters – in conflict with current legislation and, at least partially, the party’s own manifesto.

DA election posters state, without explanation: “A provincial rail service for all”, accompanied by the party’s logo.

Some voters may take the posters to mean that it is within the party’s remit to make a provincial rail service happen, but that is not currently the case.

What provincial governments are able to do when it comes to public transport is constrained by the Constitution. While Schedule 4 of the Constitution lists public transport as one of the areas of governance subject to “concurrent national and provincial legislative competence” – in other words, a shared responsibility – national government is still ultimately responsible for “legislation, policy formulation, coordination of its implementation, strategic planning and leadership” when it comes to the rail sector, to quote the government’s 2017 White Paper on National Rail Policy.

The DA knows this. In the most charitable reading of its posters, the party might be assumed to be saying “vote for us, and when we are in charge of national government we will devolve control of the rail system to provinces” – in the same way that the EFF’s manifesto essentially says “vote for us, and when we are in charge of national government we will outlaw individual land ownership”.

In the most cynical reading of its posters, the party is depending on voters believing that it is currently within the DA’s power to bring in its own rail and police services in the provinces it governs.

But to complicate matters, the DA’s election manifesto does not promise voters even that it will fight for the introduction of provincial rail service.

Instead, the manifesto states that a DA national government “will look to devolve the operation of train services in well-functioning metros, such as the City of Cape Town”.

This is quite different, since it involves controlling train services at the metro level rather than the provincial level.

The notion of “provincial rail service” also conjures up the image of an efficient train network linking an entire province, like the Western Cape, when in fact the DA’s manifesto compares what they have in mind to the MyCiti bus model, which only services Cape Town itself.

The idea of giving more power over rail services to local metros is one already promoted by civil society groups dealing with public transport, and national government has also indicated that this is the direction in which it intends to move.

At the moment, everything has to go through the Prasa head office in Pretoria and this red tape means things take longer to get done,” Unite Behind’s Zukie Vuka told Daily Maverick.

We were told by a Prasa official that even just to get toilet paper for the stations, they have to get approval from Pretoria. So we agree that metros should get more control, no matter which political party runs them.”

Vuka says, however, that the organisation is “highly doubtful” that the DA would “have the political power” to deliver on its campaign poster promise of provincial rail service.

We have to keep in mind the timing of the DA’s promises,” Vuka says. “The fact that elections are around the corner [means] we have to take everything political parties say with a pinch of salt.”

Then there’s the DA’s twin campaign promise of provincial police service – an even more outlandish pledge, given that the party’s Western Cape government has repeatedly run up against the limits of its Constitutional powers when it comes to provincial policing.

But again, what the DA’s election manifesto says on this topic is not quite the same as what its campaign posters promise.

The manifesto proposes moving “procurement of goods and services to provincial level” to enable police to “get the resources they need quicker”.

It also proposes “devolving part of the policing budget to police station level to address specific needs, and bring in line with the move to devolve the competency, where appropriate on a provincial level”.

This is a far more tentative proposal than that expressed by the DA’s posters, which effectively suggests a provincially-controlled police service operating independently from the national SAPS.

The Institute for Security Studies’ Gareth Newham says that there are indeed some good arguments for devolving policing to local levels.

The key argument for devolved policing is that they are therefore more likely to be responsive and accountable to local concerns. This is because devolving policing results in smaller police agencies which are easier to control and where necessary, easier to reform if they go rogue,” Newham told Daily Maverick.

However, whether policing is effective and responsive is not a necessary outcome of devolution. If there is inappropriate political interference, poor leadership and governance, even small police agencies will more likely resemble an armed gang than a public service.”

The idea of establishing provincial police agencies is not impossible, says Newham, but in terms of current law it could only be effected by national government.

So the only way that the DA could establish a Western Cape Police Service would be if the ANC supported its establishment, or if the DA won a national majority during general elections,” Newham says.

The DA was unable to respond to Daily Maverick’s request for comment on these matters on Wednesday.

On a number of levels, however, it would appear that the DA’s campaign posters risk misleading voters.

The issue also harkens back to a criticism of the DA made by former head of policy Gwen Ngwenya when she resigned from her position in January 2019.

In her leaked resignation letter, Ngwenya charged that the DA placed more emphasis on “temporary billboards” than on “developing a longer-lasting comprehensive policy blueprint for the country”.

The apparent conflict between what the DA’s posters say, and what its election manifesto actually contains, suggests a degree of policy confusion within the DA that should be concerning to party strategists given that elections are just over two months away.

The DA’s comment on the matter is as follows:

The Policing Competency:

You are right that currently policing is not a provincial competency although the Constitution does point to the significant role that provinces should play in a number of regards, such as oversight.

The SAPS Act, specifically chapter 5, lays out the powers and functions of the national and provincial commissioners. We would firstly want provincial commissioners and station commanders to have more powers to make localized policing decisions through an amendment of the SAPS Act. The next step would be to propose a Constitutional Amendment to have policing functions devolved to provinces where appropriate. Aside from these legislative steps, we also have a lot of offers in terms of crime prevention which are already occurring at a provincial and local level. An example collaboration between the different spheres of government is the new rail enforcement unit which is a targeted crime prevention intervention.

In terms of how this relates to our manifesto, this plan is represented as the first action point in the safety section of the manifesto– “Allow provinces, that can prove that they are up to the task, to take on responsibility for policing in that province.”

The Provincial Rail Service:

The DA are already attempting to have the competency for rail devolved. This is represented in the manifesto in the transport section in the Where We Govern Box – The Call to Devolve Metro Rail. We have framed this as a provincial officer because conurbation (in an are like Gauteng) will likely mean that this would operate as a concurrent function.

  • The National Land Transport Act of 2009 as well as the National rail policy draft white paper proposes that the rail assignment can be devolved to other spheres of government.
  • The City of Cape Town and Western Cape Provincial government have engaged with the minister extensively on the intention to take over the rail assignment.
  • The City of Cape Town has put out a tender (closed last week) for a feasibility study on receiving the rail assignment.  This will include a needs assessment to ensure the functions operates optimally once the functions is devolved.
  • The City is aiming to speed this process up due to the failure of Prasa and the lack of competition for Metro Rail.

CoCT’s rail-plan:

We are asking for devolution of the rail function and infrastructure.  By infrastructure we mean the stations, the rail reserve and rail tracks, rolling stock and the signalling system.

This model is the same as our MyCiTi model. We own the perway – the red road right of way – the stations and the rolling stock (the buses).

We are not asking to be rail operators. We do not have capacity to operate trains. Just like we do not have the capacity to operate buses/BRT.

Our BRT is operated by 4 vehicle operating companies – contracted to operate the service according to our service levels using our infrastructure.

With rail we would follow the same model.  Once we own the infrastructure we would contract with rail operators to operate on our infrastructure according to our service standards.

This means we would work out the rail service we need to serve our communities and then contract with Metrorail, as an operator, plus other private operators where Metrorail cannot meet the demand to provide that service.

The rail service would thus be operated by more than one operator, which is likely to include Metrorail (using their new fleet), but unlikely to be exclusively operated by Metrorail.

We would determine and collect the train fares.

We would determine and set the timetable.

We would determine the standards of operating.

Where any operator failed to meet the standards there would be financial penalties for them.

Where they consistently failed to meet the standards we would be entitled to cancel the contract and offer it to other operators by competitive tender. 

By way of example, currently for the MyCiTi service we have a weekly penalty committee meeting.  Any complaint by the public about the service is dealt with at this committee.  Our on time standards are that the bus may not be more than 2 minutes early or 5 minutes late.  If a bus is reported as early or late they incur a penalty.  If there is a complaint about the bus being dirty or the driver being rude – they incur a penalty.  The committee obviously considers their side of the story before the penalty is imposed.

This business model works well.  We have over 95% on time performance on the MyCiTi bus.

A similar model will be introduced for rail.

For the passenger, the assignment or devolution of the rail function would mean we could introduce one ticketing system – so the commuter could buy a monthly transport package and use any public transport  mode to travel.  If there was a rail industry strike they could use the bus, and visa versa.

We call this our Vision of One:

  • One transport authority
  • One transport network
  • One transport plan
  • One ticket
  • One timetable
  • One brand DM

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Become a Maverick Insider

This could have been a paywall

On another site this would have been a paywall. Maverick Insider keeps our content free for all.

Become an Insider
Elections24 Newsletter Banner

On May 29 2024, South Africans will make their mark in another way.

Get your exclusive, in-depth Election 2024 newsletter curated by Ferial Haffajee delivered straight to your inbox.