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Local government cannot be allowed to fail

29 Aug 2022

The Constitution establishes three spheres of government. Although all three are important in the advancement of human rights, there is no dispute that local government is at the coalface of the realisation of most of these basic human rights. But this is the sphere where all is not well.

Significant strides made by the democratic government since 1994 but numerous difficulties with governance persist. The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in its various work, such as the Annual Trends Analysis Reports and investigative and hearing reports, has found that significant systemic problems blight the local sphere of government. These include failure by municipalities to provide basic services such as water, sanitation and refuse removal.

The State of Local Government Report released by the department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs in 2021 paints a dire picture in the sphere of local government. In terms of the report, out of 257 municipalities, 64 were classified as dysfunctional, 111 were at medium risk and only 16 were stable.  

Consequently, many residents and investors have lost faith in the ability of local government to meet their needs. The recent auditor general’s audit outcomes on municipalities point to the fact that nothing much is being done to arrest this downward spiral and regression of municipalities. This points to the absence of consequence management and a lack of will to turn this malaise around.

Local government is at the nerve centre of the attainment of socioeconomic development and the improvement of the quality of life of all citizens. In that regard, it should not, and cannot be allowed to fail. The SAHRC, as a Chapter 9 institution has, as part of its mandate, a role to facilitate a platform for dialogue in order to promote the attainment of basic human rights.

The SAHRC will convene a national conference on local governance to bring together a cross-section of stakeholders to deliberate and commit to solutions to address the deteriorating state of service delivery in the local sphere of government.

The conference, to be hosted by the SAHRC on 31 August and 1 September 2022 in Johannesburg, will have thematic sessions that will consider how to build strong monitoring systems in the local sphere of government; foster good governance, accountability and transparency; improve on maintaining critical infrastructure; how both national and provincial government can provide greater and coordinated support to the local government and how residents can be involved in holding government to account in the delivery and provision of basic services.  

The transformative and developmental vision of the Constitution to improve the quality of life will remain an illusion if local government continues to be rooted in dysfunction.

Local governance is everyone’s business so we all should put the shoulder to the wheel in addressing the problems besetting local government to ensure that it does not fail.

Peacemore Mhodi is a research adviser and Philile Ntuli is a commissioner at the South African Human Rights Commission.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.

Source: Mail & Guardian

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