Opinion: SA government must now focus on the future
By Minister for Co-Operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Des Van Rooyen
The successful local government elections held on August 3 build on the solid foundation laid by local government in the past 15 years. In this time remarkable progress has been made in accelerating the provision of basic services to the poor.
The recent elections were an important milestone that further contributed to building a strong democratic South Africa. It is also encouraging that the combined efforts of all stakeholders ensured that they were largely incident free.
The peaceful elections and high voter turnout have attested to the maturity of our constitutional democracy and effectiveness of our electoral system. We applaud all voters for braving the unforgiving cold winter weather to cast their ballots in the country’s fifth democratic local government elections.
This selfless act by voters is a recognition of the importance of the local government sphere which is closest to the people. All South Africans should also be applauded as our election was once again declared free and fair elections by observers.
Now that the people have spoken, we must look to the future. In the coming weeks, new mayors and councillors will be sworn in throughout the country. These men and women from various political parties have been entrusted with the will of the people and must now step up and deliver on their promises.
In terms of the Municipal Structures Act, the municipal managers of all municipalities have 14 days within which to call the first council meetings. This is expected to happen sooner rather than later in most of the cases. At this meeting, the speaker will be elected. Then the speaker will take over proceedings and facilitate the election of the mayor of each municipality. All municipal managers are fully aware of their responsibilities. This includes the preparation of handover reports and the development of staff establishments and ward committees.
The only challenge post the August 3 local government elections is that there are about 27 municipalities in which there was no outright winner countrywide, including the big metros.
But there are appropriate mechanisms in law to address this challenge. In the next 14 days, political parties are required to engage and arrive at a workable political solution that will allow for the formation of a municipal council.
Political parties must when deciding on coalitions, give priority to the basic needs of the community and promote the social and economic development of the community. Failure to do so may lead to instability, which could, in turn, adversely affect a municipality’s capacity to effectively and efficiently provide services to communities.
But the Municipal Structures Act and our Constitution provides a solution should a scenario arise where parties are not able to find each other and the municipality remains non-operational.
(In-terms of the Act, should the coalition fail, an executive committee representing various political parties based to their representation the in council should be formed. )
In extreme cases, sections of the Constitution can also be introduced. When a municipality could not or did not fulfil an exclusive obligation in terms of the Constitution or legislation, the relevant provincial executive may intervene by taking any appropriate steps to ensure the fulfilment of that obligation.
Another section had similar provisions but pertained to national government intervening in a provincial government. National legislation may be enacted to regulate the processes established by these sections.
Another section complements the provisions in the Municipal Finance Management Act, which provides a detailed framework for financial interventions. It also supersedes all other legislation on this question.
The total number of municipalities that were subjected to this since its advent currently stands at 53. Under the ‘old’ section (pre-2003) seven municipalities were subjected to section 139, while (post-2003) this figure stands at 46.
They were placed under Section 139 due to challenges in various areas although the most common were governance, finance and service delivery.
We remain hopeful that such scenarios will not arise post the August 3 elections. All parties are therefore encouraged to find solutions that are in the best interests of our people and communities.