A win-win partnership

2013-09-06 00:00

CIVIL society has been transforming since the dawn of our democracy. It has had to, in order to cope with the many complexities associated with political transition. Among these have been a fluid development space, service-delivery expectations and the intricacies of the macroeconomic agenda.

Civil society has had to transform and adapt to these changes, and different forms of collaboration between state institutions and civil society have been not­iced. But to what extent has local government appreciated the role of civil-society organisations and traditional formations in service delivery?

There is a plethora of legislation that deals specifically with the structures and forms of public participation, and the role of civil-society organisations. South Africa’s Constitution obliges municipalities to encourage the involvement of communities and community organisations in local government. It makes provisions for the recognition of traditional leadership as an institution that should play a role in governance and socioeconomic development. The extent to which traditional leadership, other community institutions and local government have utilised these opportunities is disheartening. By and large, local government has been silent about the implementation of the legislative provisions dealing with public participation. Chapter 4 Section 16 and 17 of the Municipal Systems Act give local government powers to develop, resource and execute priorities of community participation. This corresponds with the provisions of the White Paper on Local Government (1998). This act also expects local government to encourage community participation, by affording organised civil society the opportunity to enter into partnerships with local government. Similarly, the Municipal Structures Act (1998), as amended, makes provision for the involvement of communities in the affairs of the municipality, in order to help the municipality provide services in a financially sustainable manner, and to promote development in the municipality. It advises local government to develop mechanisms that will ensure citizen participation in the affairs of the municipality, particularly on matters of policy initiation and formulation, decision-making, implementation and performance-monitoring and evaluation.

Interestingly, the Municipal Systems Act (2000) sets out ways to develop the culture of community participation. It emphasises building and strengthening mechanisms and procedures for community participation. It promotes community capacity-building initiatives that empower and improve citizens to participate effectively in the affairs of the municipality. The Municipal Systems Act expects the Traditional Councils to support municipalities in facilitating community involvement, communicating community needs and recommending appropriate interventions to local government, and other spheres of government, in executing service delivery and development priorities. The Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act (2003) was enacted to provide alignment with the constitutional expectations of the role of traditional leadership and local-government legislation, by pronouncing what the specific roles and functions of the Traditional Councils are. Basically, it wanted to improve collaboration between the traditional structures and local government. Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) in this province has established a unit to facilitate collaboration between municipalities and traditional houses.

But why does this matter? Basically, it shows political will; the commitment of the state to engage civil society and recognition by the state of the civil-society sector. It also wants to remind local government of its constitutional obligations to collaborate with civil-society organisations and traditional institutions. A list of development initiatives that talk directly to local government can be listed: ward committees, the extended public-works programme, the community works programme, the water-user associations, fire-protection associations, business forums and chambers, community tourism associations, and others.

Lastly, it wants to remind local government of the community-led development approaches that have been used by non-governmental organisations. These include Mvula Trust, the Built Environment Support Group and Lima Rural Development. There are many benefits to partnering with civil-society organisations. It can relieve the state of expenses and responsibilities, enabling the budget to stretch to more communities. Although this has attracted some resistance from organised labour, it is an opportunity to transform the negative perceptions of municipal services. Local governments share the same constituencies as civil-society organisations. Partnerships are not an optional activity, but a constitutional obligation. It can be achieved.

• Nqe Dlamini is a rural developmentconsultant.

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