Opinionista Johann Redelinghuys 7 July 2014

Suspect mayors – at the heart of poor service delivery

In the past two weeks a total of seven mayors in the Limpopo Province have been “recalled” and relieved of their duties by the ANC. The reason, as given by the newly appointed mayor of the Capricorn District and Communist Party provincial secretary, Gilbert Kganyago, is apparently “the best interests of the movement and [that] nothing would jeopardise its unity”. No mention is made of the fired mayors’ performance records or the effectiveness of their leadership.

The removal of the seven as explained by another spokesman was to clean out the cadres who were still loyal to former Premier Cassel Mathale and EFF Comander-in-Chief Julius Malema. Nocks Seabi, ANC provincial secretary denies this. But it is clear that party loyalty, unity and obedience to its upper echelons are the important qualifications for the job of being a mayor, and not leadership skills or management competence.

Several of the deposed mayors have already been replaced. Provincial ANC party spokeswoman Khumbudzo Ntshavheni says, “We are not doing a clinical exercise, but a strategic intervention.” There has been much explaining that the ANC, stung by criticism, also for the president, needs to improve its performance in local government and its provincial resource management. Gilbert Kganyago says, “Interventions by the ANC’s provincial leadership were informed by the party’s manifesto and the mandate to guide rural development and create conducive conditions for the economy to grow and fight poverty.”

All this is following a logical path. As with any enterprise, if performance drops, the chief executive’s job is on the line. The ANC can only be applauded for taking this responsibility so seriously. The only question to be asked is: are they basing their decisions for the appointment of replacement leaders on the right criteria? Will this radical Limpopo mayoral ‘putsch’ ensure a better standard of performance?

The job of a mayor is to be the chief executive of a municipality. The municipality provides services to the citizens who are the rate payers. The mayor is the leader of the town council where councillors normally also represent political parties. If the mayor and the town council are doing their jobs, there should be no excuse for poor service and absolutely no reason for service delivery protests.

Why, then, in the past few years, has there has been an overwhelming increase in service delivery protests in many of the country’s municipalities? Is the quality of municipal management and the leadership of the mayor the root cause?

Within the Limpopo Province itself, where the heavy hand of the ANC is doing the shuffling of mayors, residents of Lorraine in ga-Sekororo outside Tzaneen barricaded roads, burning tyres and protesting that their water systems were completely inadequate. As one of them said, “Why must we share water with the animals?” In the same township in March, a six-year-old girl was shot and wounded by police during a protest.

Reported in January this year by Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi from Relela, also outside Tzaneen, was the death of two young men, shot by the police during a protest.

Protesting has become a way of life, and for the unemployed and marginalised in our society, it is their only voice. Expressing it, they are often confronted by an ill-disciplined, trigger-happy police force.

Millions of people are angry and desperate for the basic necessities that would enable them to manage reasonable living standards for themselves and their families. Clean water, sanitation, housing and poor infrastructure have been escalating complaints. All of the above are the services normally provided by the departments of the municipality and fall within the scope of the mayor’s responsibilities. At the heart of service delivery is the ability of the town council to provide the citizens what they need to cope with their daily lives.

One would reasonably expect a mayor to be a person of stature, to have strong management skills and effective leadership. The selection and appointment of a mayor should work along the same lines as for the appointment of any person responsible for a business. Recognising the mayoral job description, it should be based on the assessment of an appropriate track-record, confirmed by three or more authoritative references and proper security checks. Considering that mayors and town councillors are responsible for the management of the municipal budget, they should at least have sufficient understanding of financial matters.

When we take stock of the ANC leadership of the country, there is usually a straight line to the president and those close to him. The most senior ANC members in national government are most visible and those most often criticised. But the quality of life experienced by people on the ground depends much less on the broad national strategy of the ANC and focuses much more on what is being done in the rural towns and villages by local government. It is there that poor people have to put up with the consequences of bad decision-making. It is in the backwaters of dusty townships adjacent to the rural towns where people are trapped and have to live with the worst conditions.

In places like Bekkersdal near Randfontein, the nerves are raw and people are exasperated. It is in all the places like these where the sanitation department still operates the demeaning bucket system that local government is failing. It is ironic that Limpopo, with its wealth of high mineral deposits, is also the poorest province in the country. It has the highest level of poverty, with 78% of the people living below the poverty line. It is in such places that decent, carefully selected leadership should be making a difference.

Twenty years into democracy, the people deserve better. DM

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