Guest Column

Notes on the Vuwani matter

2017-05-07 06:25
Roads were blocked with burning tyres during recent protests in Vuwani. (Netwerk24)

Roads were blocked with burning tyres during recent protests in Vuwani. (Netwerk24)

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It is regrettable that the situation in Vuwani has reignited after efforts and talks to resolve a demarcation dispute broke down.

The situation has descended into what is described by the organisers as a shutdown, which implies that practically all services to the community – ranging from health to schooling – will be disrupted.

That children will not be able to go to school, the infirm may not get medical care and businesspeople will not be able to ply their trade should be a concern for every South African.

With our economy bleeding jobs, the last thing we want to do is to worsen the situation.

Vuwani is an area inhabited by about 70 000 people, most of whom are Venda-speaking, and was previously part of Makhado.

It has been redemarcated to be part of a new municipality provisionally named LIM345.

The Municipal Demarcation Board determined that this new municipality, whose core area is the old Malamulele, was viable after initially rejecting the proposal.

The emergence of this municipality was a major and complex boundary reconfiguration and involved a permutation of at least four municipalities and traditional areas.

According to the board, Vuwani’s people hold the key to the existence of LIM345.

If Vuwani is not part of LIM345, its viability will be impaired and may have to be de-established.

The real question is why a community which was not interested in and did not request any demarcation should find itself annexed to bolster a new municipality.

The current demarcation framework has three elements.

The first one requires the board to be guided by a set of objectives and take into account several factors when making boundary determinations.

Essentially, this constitutes the criteria for municipal boundary determination.

Secondly, there is a set procedure that institutionalises participation and consultation throughout the process. Lastly, the framework also provides for the review of its decision by the court of law.

The demarcation framework is an instrument of transformation to reverse the legacy of apartheid geography.

A demarcation decision must therefore be transformative and ensure that affected areas will be much improved after boundary determination.

It would seem the current impasse in Vuwani suggests the case for including it in the new municipality was not convincing. The people of Vuwani have also lamented the lack of consultation in this process.

The board decision was taken to court and the matter was settled in the board’s favour. While the court may resolve legal aspects, it may not necessarily yield long-lasting and socially sustainable resolutions.

This requires leadership and magnanimity, qualities which the board itself must show.

While the board cannot be expected to reverse its decision, it must at least explain it.

The board must say how the incorporation of Vuwani into the new municipality will be for the better. It must also outline how it applied the criteria as outlined in legislation in this instance.

More importantly, it must rebut and refute the claims of non-consultation. It is not acceptable for the board to use a legal decision to remain silent and not engage.

This type of approach and engagement will enhance the credibility and standing not only of the board, but that of the current demarcation framework.

It is important that we demystify the boundary redetermination process by making it more transparent.

The Vuwani matter cannot be simply relegated to being a law and order or state security matter, nor should it be seen as a reason for civil action and disobedience.

Mahlangu is Nafcoc chief economic adviser and former chairperson of the Municipal Demarcation Board

Read more on:    municipal demarcation board  |  vuwani  |  makhado
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