Local government funding, which is largely derived from ratepayers, is experiencing a rapid rise in payment defaults due to poor administration, unaffordability of rising property and utility tariffs, or sheer public defiance in retaliation to poor governance and corruption.
As a result, municipal administration across South Africa is being hampered, while service delivery failures mount, more defiance takes place and the rapid spiral toward a collapsed municipality unfolds.
Many residents are gearing up for the pain that comes with the obvious and growing defiance action that is unfolding, as is evident in recent Auditor-General reports that show declining payment compliance. Unfortunately though, it is ultimately the poorer communities who suffer the most, as wealthier areas find it easier to reduce their reliance on municipalities for electricity, water and waste removal services.
National government stirs
Despite the division of power between national, provincial and local governments, the state plays an important role when it comes to oversight, power and influence over SA’s municipalities and metros, yet it has largely failed to rein in its political delinquents who are largely responsible for the collapse of many municipalities across the country.
The National Treasury is one state function that appears to have seen the big picture looming, evident in its challenge to curb forthcoming public sector wage increases to offset many years of above-inflation salary increases, which has placed a heavy burden on the taxpayer.
While civil society is moved by the Treasury’s stance, more needs to be done to ensure that grant funding to errant municipalities goes directly into debt repayments and the funding of services that benefit indigent communities and ratepayers. Furthermore, the state and provincial oversight structures must begin to lay criminal charges and remove officials who have been grossly negligent in their responsibilities to society.
Sadly, it appears that Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) has been paralysed or unwilling to take the necessary corrective action to avert the looming crisis of collapsed municipalities, now piling up at Cogta’s doorstep. They simply fail to acknowledge that bankrupt municipalities are largely the result of failed governance processes by municipal councils that operate in their jurisdiction.
The stand-off evolving between communities and the local authorities is one the state can no longer afford to ignore, for it is the national government that will have to pick up the pieces and pay the price of restorative governance in this space.
Collaborative active citizenry pays off
We are all too familiar with the destruction and burning of municipal infrastructure that takes place when communities become fed up with the dismal performance of their local councils. Fortunately, there appears to be a new approach taking shape as communities across all sectors of society begin to collaborate, by addressing their collective plight of dysfunctional municipalities in a constructive and solutions-based manner.
Visible signs include community and residents’ associations taking collective action in search of court orders that enable them to take control of their municipal affairs and revenue management. When communities become organised and collaborative, they empower themselves to obtain formal “tax-revolt” rulings in their favour. This is regarded as a constructive approach to addressing and restoring municipal functionality, when compared to uncontrolled tax revolts wherein residents simply refuse to pay their dues in defiance of their corrupt and inept local authorities.
This can be seen in the growing number of court challenges and rulings in favour of organised communities who pledge to manage and restore broken infrastructure and services. Such was the outcome of a recent court case in the Kgetlengrivier Local Municipality in North West, where the residents’ association was granted the right to restore the town’s wastewater plant at the cost of the municipality. There have been similar cases in the past and more of the same are expected to escalate as the number of defunct municipalities begins to mount.
In some municipalities, communities are organising themselves to fix potholed roads, water leaks and sewerage system failures and make use of past precedential court rulings to claim the cost of these repairs from the municipality.
Today, more than ever since the dawn of democracy in South Africa, every citizen needs to become more aware of what’s happening within their local communities, along with a greater understanding of their rights and collective power when it comes to being part of the change that needs to unfold.
Organised civil society is igniting responsible activism in citizens, as they begin to discover the power of collaboration, networking and efficient communication structures to overcome their fears and challenges that arise from failed municipal management.
As we move closer toward municipal elections, we will see more collaborative active citizenry. The notion of independent candidates in municipal wards to remove the stronghold of political dynamics that has given rise to municipal decay will become a matter of serious consideration during local elections later this year. This will become more evident as independent candidates collaborate and form local political structures to secure the additional proportional representative seats within council, which has the potential for citizen-based politics and the removal of past political structures from the running of towns and cities.
Collaboration and networking of organised communities has the ability to undo the stranglehold of outdated and failed political structures that has given rise to the mess that local government has become today.
This year could very well see the rise of active citizens, as they mobilise collectively and constructively to take control of the structures that govern the quality of their lives and neighbourhoods. DM