SOLUTIONS-DRIVEN ACTIVISM OP-ED
Mutually accountable citizen and government partnership delivers services
A number of issues plague South African small towns, including a lack of water and a ‘brain drain’ of talented people moving to larger cities. Additionally, many small-town municipalities are stretched to their limits and unable to deliver even the most basic services. In response the Towns Action Network is actively cultivating joint problem solving and action towards small-town regeneration.
Lelethu Zono from Joza Location in Makhanda is part of a growing number of ordinary South Africans taking charge of the change they want to see in their communities by holding the government accountable for service delivery.
Zono is a citizen reformer with the Public Service Accountability Monitor’s (PSAM) Action for Accountability Project in Makhanda, which encourages citizen and government partnership to achieve accountability and consistent service delivery.
The PSAM is part of the Towns Action Network (TAN), a broad church of partners from small towns across the country promoting activities that build small-town regeneration. TAN was formed in response to the serious challenges that residents of small towns face.
Zono explains: “There is a water shortage where we live. We get water three times a week or sometimes we don’t get it and the refuse doesn’t get collected. We have to store water because there is a possibility that the next day you won’t have water. This is the second year of no water but only some people have JoJo tanks so that they have water. You need to wash, and you need to drink water and so there’s no coping mechanism for not having water.”
But Zono is undeterred by this and believes in getting her hands dirty, alongside the government, to turn things around. Trained by the PSAM, Zono collects information from residents about service delivery issues, which is mapped and fed back to the government in council meetings that citizen reformers attend in a bid to hold the council accountable for delivery.
Zono dismisses the common refrain that it is only the government’s job to deliver services, not citizens.
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“People must start somewhere. The government is the people. It’s important to keep open the line of communication between us and government. There’s always something that we as citizens can do.”
Zono’s journey as an agent of transformation in her community has been empowering.
“If you don’t believe in anything then you can’t stand up for anything. Doing this has opened my own eyes and shown me that I have a voice in my community and that I could do something. We have a beautiful country but it’s up to us to maintain and take care of it.”
Action for change in small towns
A number of issues plague South African small towns, including a lack of water and a “brain drain” of talented people moving to larger cities.Many small town municipalities are also stretched to their limits and unable to deliver even the most basic services.
The Towns Action Network convened by the Western Cape Economic Development Partnership (EDP) and seven other Support Partners – the In Transformation Initiative, Ranyaka, Kagiso Trust, Restaurare/ Citeplan, Democracy Works Foundation, Karoo Development Foundation and Accountability Lab SA is actively cultivating joint problem solving and action towards small-town regeneration.
Since its launch in March 2022, TAN has attracted more than 250 participants from about 110 different organisations who are working to enhance local government accountability to people, companies and local organisations so that corruption is minimised.
Accountability is at the core of TAN’s efforts, which recognise that while the government’s duty is to provide a conducive climate for small-town regeneration, it is also ordinary citizens like Zono who contribute to their own town’s development.
The EDP’s TAN programme lead, Simon Sizwe Mayson, explains that there are many change-makers in small towns across South Africa who are working constructively to keep their towns functioning.
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“Some people protest peacefully and petition the province to hold municipalities accountable. Others fill potholes or assist the municipality with billing issues. Even the most defunct municipalities have motivated leaders who strive to improve the lives of their residents despite the challenges. The most effective change-makers work with others to multiply their efforts.”
TAN spotlights mutual accountability between citizens and the government as a response to a lack of accountability in public life, and in doing so works towards a thriving participatory democracy. DM/MC
Linda Daniels is a writer supporting the Western Cape Economic Development Partnership’s programmes, knowledge-generation and communications and marketing activities. She has worked as a journalist and media trainer in the commercial and not-for-profit sectors. Her work as a project lead in developing grassroots media efforts has enabled women and young people to become community reporters so that they can tell their own stories in impactful ways. Linda is passionate about social justice and has written about a long-running advocacy campaign concerning copyright reform in South Africa. She is completing a Master’s of Philosophy (MPhil) in Inclusive Innovation.