The election is over, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) did their job efficiently, the count is in, coalitions are being formed and democracy seems to have triumphed again. 

The voter turnout at 57-58 % demonstrates that South Africans are bucking world-wide trends of low voter turnout at a local government level. There was a sense in the air that this election would bring about the possibility of change.

Many citizens are tired of the myriad of reasons why their lives are not improving as a consequence of a lack of effective governance and low quality of service delivery. It is clear that people are using their vote to effect change. Community based parties have also been a feature of this election, pointing to a disappointment in big parties being able to serve communities at a neighbourhood level.

Throughout the country the totals show a drop in the ANC’s vote count by 8.04%, the 2.95 % increase of the DA’s base since 2011, the EFF’s showing of 8.2 %, and a drop in smaller parties such as the UDM, COPE and FF+ in percentage points overall.  Independent candidates have remained at a constant rate as a total percentage of the vote count. The community based parties may now get an opportunity to be part of coalition governance negotiations in the 27 hung councils throughout the country as parties were not able to secure outright wins in those councils.

 The critical issue is: now that we have voted, will change be the consequence of how we have exercised our vote, particularly in those areas where coalition governance will be the consequence of these elections.

One of the concerns that have been raised over the past decade has been the impact of cadre deployment on the pace of delivery. Civil servants are largely seen to be serving the agenda of the ruling party or their own vested interests for power within the party structures. At a local level, issues are raised by communities of government employees being brought in as municipal staff on the basis of ethnicity and as a result of cultural differences service delivery is impacted. Civil servants are accused of lining their pockets through corruption. They are seen as rude, arrogant and insensitive to the people they are meant to serve.

The likelihood of sewerage management, electricity accounts being sorted out effectively, water pipes being laid in the areas that need them the most, local roads being tarred or graded properly, potholes being fixed or cemeteries being well looked after amongst others as a consequence of a newly constituted council is not a given.

Coalition governance is complex at a political level. It is likely to be even more complex at the interface between the administration and legislative components at a local level. There is a danger that due to political posturing at a political level in council that council management will become mired in political point scoring as opposed to serving the broader interests of the residents of any municipality governed through coalition.

Councillors who have been voted in on independent, small party or community based organisations tickets may find themselves caught up in the maelstrom of political posturing through the bigger parties on councils who will play them against each other in order to have dominance in council matters.

Section 79 and 80 committees (where the bulk of council work takes place) may stall and become mired in paralysis through parties using the structures as a means to undermine each other drawing on various pieces of council legislation.  This is highly likely in councils in which the bigger parties have councillors who have served more than one term and are familiar with the body of regulations that enable council work to take place.

It is likely that we will see wily municipal staff members that are aligned to one particular party to find mechanisms of sabotage that can undermine the intent and purpose of councillors who seek to put their communities at the forefront of the municipal agenda and strive for change to take place.

The key to citizens ensuring the more complex nature of coalition governance results in more effective and efficient governance lies in not resting on their inked finger laurels. Democracy is potentially deeper than just the vote if we commit ourselves as citizens to not give up our power completely to the representatives we have chosen.

Even if the person we have voted for in a ward is not our original choice as citizens we need to get their contact details and hold them to account during the next five years. Instead of talking, walking, “postering” or SMS’ing us during elections campaigning we need to demand that they account to us over the next five years.

They need to report on their work; whether it is on the ward committee, through the committees they serve on, during plenary council meetings or how they are assisting individual residents to navigate the bureaucracy of administration when the mechanisms break down.

As a resident you and I both need to be aware of where our councillor lives, what their phone number is, their email address, and push for them to use other options such as putting up a Facebook page, setting up a What’s App group for the ward or distributing pamphlets to alert citizens to the work being done by council.  Community radio stations should host the councillor to allow for citizens to send in questions that focus on local matters.

Report back meetings, whether that happens on a monthly, quarterly or bi-annual basis – which should be for the community to decide not the councillor – it is our responsibility to demand that they take place.  The community needs to consider assigning people to attend council and sub-committee meetings in order to get information to see if the councillor is doing the job they were elected to do.

If the councillors belong to a party and they are being negligent, engage with party structures to hold their councillor to account.  Local community newspaper journalists should be called upon to cover stories that highlight the deficiencies in particular aspects of local governance that pertain to the ward concerned.

Knowledge of how local government works can enable citizens to hone in on the particular areas of governance that are not working instead of complaining about the overall management which is unlikely to yield results.

The key to municipal governance is the implementation of and appropriate financial allocations to items within the Integrated Development Plan (IDP). In addition, the administrative system that has been built or needs to be built within the municipality is a critical area of oversight for citizens.

The qualification of staff and the turnover of senior managers need to be tracked. Reports that are sent to the National Treasury and the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Authority Department (COGTA) should be requested and analysed. Money spent through the Local Government Sector Training Authority (LGSETA) needs to result in skills development and subsequent improved service delivery.

Citizens need to push their representatives to provide information on these matters.  Community organising at a local level is paramount in order to ensure that as individuals we are not let down but we win issues together as community members which can lead to administrative and structural change. Community groups should engage with each other across ward boundaries and organise on common issues in the municipality.

Deep democracy at a local level lies in our hands; not only in the hands that will now receive financial reward for the privilege of serving us – the citizenry.

***The views of this  blog do not necessarily represent the views of Democracy Works Foundation. 

Yvette Geyer is a consultant in the field of governance and democracy.  She has over 20 years’ experience covering a range of specialities such as elections, local government, safety and security, youth development, gender, anti-racism, transitional politics, HIV/Aids, water, civil society and policy development. Her skill set includes qualitative and quantitative research, training, facilitation, curriculum development and project management.  She has a BA in Political Sciences and an MA in Public Development Management.

To read publications by Yvette Geyer on our website please click here.

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