President Cyril Ramaphosa says that “super corruption”, alongside other factors, is causing mass instability in municipalities across the country, thus eroding the delivery of basic services.

Speaking at a South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) conference on Thursday (1 September), the president discussed the failings of municipalities and deemed that they are in crisis – and continuing down the current trajectory is neither viable nor sustainable.

Having municipalities in crisis undermines the constitutional promise of human dignity, and it threatens economic growth and investment, the president said.

He said that local government is the most important custodian of the socio-economic rights of people; however this is being overrun by:

  • Political contestations and infighting;
  • A lack of skills;
  • Failure to adhere to legislative prescripts;
  • Poor governance,
  • Lack of accountability and;
  • Widespread corruption – what he termed “super corruption”.

“When local government works – when basic services like water, sanitation, education, electrification and health care are distributed efficiently and equitably – people’s quality of life is improved, businesses thrive, economies grow, and the dignity of our people is assured,” said Ramaphosa.

When local government delivery fails, the impact is direct and devastating, and it immediately has a negative impact on the lives of people where they live, he said.

A recent report by the Auditor-General showed that 41 of South Africa’s 257 municipalities (16%) received a clean audit over the last year. One hundred municipalities received an unqualified audit with findings, while 78 had qualified audits with findings.

“What we see looking at this year’s audit outcome is that there is no improvement in the status of transparency, accountability, performance, or integrity of local government,” said the auditor-general Tsakani Maluleke.

What this means is that many municipalities are unable to deliver basic services and are unable to build and upgrade clinics and hospitals, and fix roads, said Ramaphosa.

“Efficient and affordable service delivery could mark the difference between leading a life of dignity, as promised by our Constitution, and a life of squalor, misery and deprivation.”

Service delivery strikes

Failing service delivery has prompted various protests, revealing public dissatisfaction. Sometimes, these turn violent, the president said.

He noted a recent protest in the Eastern Cape where a public sector wage strike resulted in damage to essential infrastructure for municipal services. The residents of the area subsequently protested the results of the previous protest.

Although the reasoning behind protests is varied, social and economic dynamics, high unemployment and municipal governance issues all play roles. However, no matter how legitimate the grievance, arson, looting, violence and damage to property can never be justified, said Ramaphosa.

Earlier this year in June, finance minister Enoch Godongwana warned that deteriorating service delivery at the municipal level is likely to lead to more instability and protest action in South Africa.

Godongwana cited instances of “regular protests” in which masses of people take to the streets to demand access to basic amenities and chances to pursue a better life for their families.

“You see it in factories, plants and small businesses closing shop and retrenching workers because they cannot rely on the timely provision of electricity and water.”

Attempts to repair

On 19 August, Ramaphosa signed into law the Local Government: Municipal Systems Amendment Bill.

The new law seeks to bar municipal workers and senior managers from holding political office in South Africa. It prohibits all municipal officials from holding political office and also empowers MECs to take appropriate steps, which include the application of declaratory orders on the validity of appointments to enforce compliance.

Ramaphosa said that the new law is an important tool for improving the manner in which our municipalities function and are held accountable.

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