Pinning hope

2011-01-04 00:00

AS the festive season comes to an end, many worrying things about the state of our politics come to mind. There are ongoing shenanigans within the Congress of the People (Cope) and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), frosty relations with the governing alliance, uncertainties about whether the Democratic Alliance and the Independent Democrats (DA-ID) marriage will work in all provinces, and, of course, the on-going difficulties in municipalities.

Listening to the people of eNjengabantu­, eFaye and eMtulwa­ discuss their circumstances, it is clear that 2011 will be a big test for our local government. I found that the people fondly remember 2010 for the spirit of the World Cup that spread to even these forgotten communities, and their happiness at the election of Jacob Zuma as president. But I also heard many complain about neglect by the uMshwathi­ Municipality and its ward councillor.

The reasons for their disappointment were difficult for me to dispute because for me to get there, I had to drive along a gravel road and avoid many potholes. The water­ coming out of taps, when it does come out, is unhygienic and a health hazard and there is no electricity. The only major development reported in the past five years is the building of free-standing toilets.

In the residents' opinion, the government, nationally and locally, is a dismal failure because of its incompetence. The people participate in elections and ward meetings in increasing numbers every year, but get no positive results. They even switched support from the IFP to the ANC in 2004 and 2006, but there was no positive change.

The people refuse to take responsibility for making the wrong choice by voting for a ward councillor who has the crossed floor from the National­ Party, to the IFP and now the ANC, a man they call a career crosstitute.

They do not take responsibility for not putting pressure on the councillor and the municipality to fix things up. The municipality and the councillor have not involved themselves in the development of the Integrated Development Plan.

None of the community leaders have seen a copy of the annual municipal plan in the past five years and they have not demanded it during rare ward meetings.

Basically, they do not effectively and constantly demand responsible leadership. They do not complain enough to the powers-that-be.

Like many municipalities and councillors, uMshwathi will not act until there is evidence of agitation and mobilisation by the communities that are affected. Until then, they will pretend that these communities do not exist.

Only a few people indicated that having been failed by the IFP and the ANC, they will try the DA as the last resort before they stop voting at all. The rest are increasingly withdrawing from active politics. They are waiting for someone to instigate a violent service delivery protest to vent their anger.

Under these conditions, while they are expected to vote in a couple­ of months, these people had another unsavoury Christmas season­.

They spent the holiday period feeling neglected and forgotten by the system. They cannot understand how the people who failed them are in line for even bigger positions, especially in the ANC's Moses Mabhida region, and in other­ parties.

They are dismayed that new potential­ candidates for the ward positions are out and about canvassing for support. The IFP that failed from 2002 to 2006 and the ANC that neglected them after they voted for it in 2006, are increasingly seen as a bunch of opportunist without a social cause of any kind.

Clearly the failure of delivering basic services is also the failure of political parties that are represented by councillors to do their job. In the absence of monitoring mechanisms, how will the parties remedy this situation in future? The communities of eNjengabantu and others will remain on the margins of a growing South Africa­.

It will lead to voter fatigue as people lose hope in the power of the ballot. These communities have become hotbeds of social anger­ and disillusionment that may explode in the future.

Zuma's promise to act on non-performance and corruption rings hollow for these rural communities who are served by incompetent municipalities. An increasing number of people will lose confidence in political parties and democracy and will ultimately gravitate towards anarchy or apathy.

This is the year to fix local government and restore public trust in the national government and all political parties. Parties should know how to find and punish incompetence within their ranks as they stand to lose if they become associated with mediocrity.

The government should be able to instil professionalism and competence by taking tough action against underperformance, as it does on corruption, because on both occasions citizens are robbed.

The Local Government Turn-around plan must bear fruit otherwise it will be discredited as a bluff. The plan is good, but it needs a lot of political will to implement it effectively.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue, but writes in his personal capacity.

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