As we get into the full swing of 2021, one of the pertinent calendar events for the year is the upcoming local government elections. These are of particular interest to me, and I believe many South Africans, in light of the year we have just had.
It is at a local government level that the impact of political decisions, or indecisions, are directly felt by citizens. It is at this level that the effectiveness of various policies – the efficacy of governance frameworks and implementation of plans (or lack thereof) – are effectively monitored and assessed, and if 2020 was anything to go by, there is a significant amount of work to be done at local government level.
The initial lockdown and subsequent levels of restrictions aimed at mitigating the spread of the Covid-19 virus have shown with great detail the vast and deeply embedded socioeconomic inequalities that exist in this country — from the long queues at post offices for the R350 unemployment grant, the overburdened health system that is still lacking in human and other resources such as personal protective equipment, to the humanitarian crisis waiting to happen at our borders.
As South Africans, we have continued to witness the increasing trust deficit between the state and its citizens as unmet promises ensure that the little trust we have is eroded even further. This is predominantly through the lack of delivery of basic services.
One need only travel to townships and villages to see the impact of this. In many areas, water has become a scarce resource. People must travel long distances to access clean drinking water in scorching temperatures.
Roads are poorly maintained, pit latrines are common in rural villages and clinics are chronically understocked and at times understaffed. It is the responsibility of municipalities to address many of these shortcomings.
Late in 2020, it was announced in Gauteng that those on a 1997 waiting list were finally getting their RDP houses. Most of them have been living in informal settlements, along with millions of others, where there is poor sanitation and serious overcrowding. How are they meant to adhere to Covid-19 safety precautions?
Many municipalities have, over the years, utterly failed to provide basic services that would provide dignity and security to people during a pandemic.
The late Auditor-General, Kimi Makwetu, released the municipal audit report in September 2020 which revealed more than R32-billion in irregular expenditure. A mere 20 out of 271 municipalities received clean audits.
This is while the country experiences its highest unemployment figures among the youth, a steady erosion of the tax base, a stagnant economy and corruption that goes unpunished. We ought to remember that it is at local government level where the effects of corruption and maladministration are felt most directly.
A lack of recreational facilities in poor areas has led to an increase in substance abuse; a lack of access to water continues to have a direct impact on livelihoods and health, especially during the pandemic; and the effects of unmaintained roads include constantly increasing public transport tariffs and high vehicle wear and tear costs.
Notwithstanding the above, a key priority in 2021 must be to urge the collective leadership and citizenry of this country to hold accountable those whose decisions, or lack thereof, directly affect the lives of the most vulnerable.
Mayors, councillors and municipal managers must be held to the highest of high standards this year and beyond.
In the upcoming elections, ordinary South Africans must reflect deeply about their lived reality and the role of the political leadership in changing that reality.
Citizens would do well to vote according to the political leadership’s track record in their area, and not according to the promises made by those campaigning.
Too often we have seen the gap between promises and reality. DM