Local governance is where social and economic development meet. Local municipalities are where the citizens are, it is where they experience South Africa at its best and worst, it is where the society is shaped and formed. As it stands, South Africa is ranked amongst the most unsafe countries in the world, with six of the country’s cities in the top 20 of the world's most dangerous, creating a negative sentiment towards the country, both as an investment and tourist destination. Local municipality governance is best positioned to play a crucial in ensuring the safety of citizens and ensuring that the law is observed and upheld.
The importance of the local government elections in South Africa to be held on November 1 cannot be overstated due to the important role municipalities play in social cohesion and the country’s economic development. This is because municipalities are pivotal in creating a conducive business environment through bylaws and services such as water, roads, transport, electricity as well as deciding on land use. The status quo has however been a narrow minded conception of economic activity; survivalist activities and minimal service delivery which has had detrimental effects on development. One example of these effects is Clover’s announcement earlier in the year that due to poor service delivery they would be closing the country’s biggest cheese factory in the Ditsobotla local municipality. A relook at resource allocation in municipalities is needful. Large amounts tend to go to salaries and overtime which is at times fabricated and little goes to infrastructure. In 2020 the then Auditor General, Kimi Makwetu, reported that over the three year period under review, R4 billion had gone to fruitless and wasteful expenditure. It has also been reported that municipalities fail to effectively collect rates and taxes.
Perhaps it’s time we introduced competition amongst municipalities. We can learn from China under Deng wherein local authorities competed intensively with each other through industrial parks which created opportunities for entrepreneurs initiating the move from being an agrarian country to an industrialized one. Competition led to development as local authorities would provide a friendly business environment, civic amenities, including water, sewerage, electricity, internet, and telephone infrastructure, and land in order to attract capital investment. Once firms moved in, amongst them industrial leaders and promising high tech industries, there was job creation, development of the local economy and the region received tax revenue. In many places, a quota-like system is used, which requires every government ofﬁce to bring in a certain amount of investment to the local industrial parks. While we have Special Economic Zones in certain municipalities, investment in infrastructure is what will make firms come in and cause them to stay.
It is the local governors who hold the highest power to transform South Africa into a prosperous nation as they are best positioned to observe the problems faced by ordinary citizens. Because no two municipalities are the same and so are the challenges they face, significant strides can be made when local governors work hard at the development and implementation of uniquely knitted solutions for the municipalities they govern. This requires that municipalities take advantage of their comparative edge instead of competing against each other for the same kind of products.
There is greater need for collaboration with Non-Profit/Government Organizations (NPOs/ NGOs) to solve problems ranging from an unskilled population, access to healthcare, to homelessness, poverty, teenage gangsterism, and pregnancy. Solving these social challenges, together with creating environments that are conducive for economic development will play a pivotal role in creating the South Africa we all want to live in. This is why you owe it to yourself and others to vote for competence and not party loyalty while at the same time ensuring local governors are held accountable after the vote. This is why the November 1 elections matter.