Editor's noteOpinion

Nowhere to hide in local government

THE SA Local Government Association (Salga) has acknowledged the urgent need for strong political leadership at municipal level.

Salga chairperson councillor Thabo Manyoni said on Wednesday the leaders should have an interest in the areas in which they operate and meet people instead of outsourcing political functions.

Manyoni was critical of the lines of communication between municipalities and citizens, which he said were not open and were among the main causes of spiralling service delivery protests.

Time and again, fingers are pointed at ward councillors when service delivery expectations are not met. But councillors merely serve as a communication link between the council and the community and do not have the necessary resources to make things happen.

Their wishes and those of their constituents may at times not be in line with the programmes and initiatives of the municipalities. The buck therefore lies with mayors and their executives.

Johannesburg has been calmer since Parks Tau became the mayor. This is despite service delivery protests and the municipalities Achilles tendon, the billing problem, for which Tau was partly responsible: he was Economic Affairs MMC when the billing department crumbled a few years ago.

With regards to communication, the City of Johannesburg can be awful, constantly leaving the media and the general scrambling for information, and later crying foul when details are not presented to municipal leaders’ liking.

For example, in May, Finance MMC Geoffrey Makhubo tabled a record R43.8 billion budget, with a significant portion of the money going towards the creation of high-density residential developments along transport corridors, and R450 million on the rejuvenation of the inner city. There has been no further word on these projects.

Last year Tau introduced the Joburg 10 Plus Programme, a ward-based initiative integrating by-law enforcement, crime prevention and basic service delivery. Reports suggest this has not been successful.

If citizens understood the limitations and challenges facing local government, protests and unrests would indeed be minimised.

As Manyoni implied, municipal political leadership should stand up and be counted. They must draw the line between party politics and the needs of the people.

Unlike their counterparts at provincial and national tiers of government, there is nowhere to hide in local government: it is the government which is closest to the people.

Time will tell if Tau is the political leader Johannesburg needed.

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