President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on mayors, executive mayors and other local government officials to ‘gets back to basics’ and win back the trust of the South African people.

This means steering away from self-enrichment, political squabbles and to redouble efforts to deliver services.

The president was addressing the South African Local Government Association’s Council of Mayors on Thursday (8 September) in East London.

He said that it has been 10 months since the local government elections, with many new faces filling positions in local government offices. However, he said that wherever he went in the country, he heard the same story.

“Services are poor or are not being provided, the relationship with residents has broken down, and residents are not prepared to pay for poor quality services,” he said. “Why are we continuing to witness persistent failures that are widening the levels of distrust and lack of confidence between us and the South African people?”

Ramaphosa said that the lessons learned from the Covid-19 crisis and the recent flooding in KwaZulu Natal and the Eastern Cape showed that local governments need to go ‘back to basics’ to address the needs of the people they serve.

“By ensuring a decent level of service and by treating customers both fairly and professionally, residents will have their faith and trust restored and will be prepared to pay for services,” he said.

For local government, these basics include:

  • Putting people and their concerns first;
  • Supporting the delivery of municipal services to the right quality and standard;
  • Promoting good governance, transparency and accountability;
  • Ensuring sound financial management and accounting; and,
  • Building institutional resilience and administrative capacity.

“We are all familiar with these basic actions, and we all agree that we must prioritise them,” he said. “The question then is, why are we not successful in implementing these actions?”

The president said that the reality is that local government cannot get back to basics while this sphere of government is seen as a “terrain of patronage, political squabbles and personal enrichment”.

He said the mayors and other leaders need to develop systems to shield municipal management and functions from political interference, infighting and corruption – while also learning to work together as coalitions and find a common interest in support of the people.

“There needs to be a concerted and shared effort to address growing levels of public dissatisfaction with service provision. There is hardly a municipality in this country, regardless of who runs it, that has not been impacted by some form of protest,” he said.

Fix those potholes

When getting back to basics, it doesn’t get more basic than maintaining infrastructure.

Ramaphosa said that there was wide agreement that challenges at the local government level undermine the country’s social and economic development programmes as a whole and that the poor performance of local government is inhibiting the ability of provinces to drive the pressing economic recovery programmes the country needs.

“When local government fails, it is not just service delivery that fails. It isn’t just that our people’s expectations are not met,” he said. “The failure of local government has a direct and material impact on economic growth and jobs.”

Addressing the widespread deterioration of public roads, the president said that even this one aspect of failed service delivery has far-reaching consequences.

“When roads are poorly maintained, people cannot get to work. Produce and other goods cannot get to markets. When important social infrastructure is not maintained, children cannot get to school, people cannot access health care, and homes are often without water or electricity,” he said.

This has enormous costs for productivity, learning, health outcomes and quality of life.

“The failure of local government is essentially the failure of government as a whole. If local government succeeds, all of government becomes a success,” the president said.

Read: Good news for jobs in South Africa, says Ramaphosa