Popularity not a reason to get a job as a councillor

2018-06-10 11:44
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We have been seeing recurrent community protests recently. Generally, these are ascribed to poor or no service delivery. Usually during these protests, property is smashed and people are injured or, worse, killed.

There is a problem with how we install local municipal councillors. Currently, when we elect people into council, there is no discrimination between, for example, a person without a matric and one with a PhD in local economic development. On the face of it, the criteria appears to be popularity.

Consequently, we end up with a preposterous situation, where many of these councils are populated by illiterate people. Worse, many of these ignorant councillors often have no clue about what being a servant of the people means. Communities end up with a situation in which illiterate people are charged with the profound obligation to supervise senior officials with university degrees. How can this be a sensible proposition? It’s a joke.

Some of these councillors are often hand-picked yes-men who serve corrupt political principals, and whose preoccupation is the looting of the state through the irregular and illegal awarding of tenders.

Simply, these councillors are there to get ahead, not to render services to the people. If you are a “threat” to them, you die. One only needs to look at KwaZulu-Natal’s political landscape to see how much blood flows for a place in the council chamber. We do not see qualified doctors killing each other for a position at a local hospital. It doesn’t happen because, when you are educated, unlike many councillors today, you are not terrified by the prospect of a depressed, hunger-stricken future. These people kill one another for these positions because, if they don’t, where will the poor sods work?

Also, mainly because of how clumsily political parties handle factions in their ranks, it is a reality that some community members use legitimate concerns to fight unrelated battles. They use “the people” and their concerns to force leadership changes and to accomplish objectives they would otherwise find difficult to achieve.

Another problem is that, in many cases, the senior officials “deployed” in these municipalities are fundamentally compromised. They are compelled to first serve the political masters who deployed them because, if they don’t, their contracts will not be renewed.

Our communities are not without blame. Many of their grievances are legitimate. But there seems to be an overarching precept, a dictum, that, if we want a road and we do not burn a library, loot shops and deny sick people entry to clinics and hospitals, our demand will not be realised.

We have a simple problem – as long as councils are populated by corrupt and uneducated swindlers who serve no one but themselves and their handlers; as long as communities do not take keen interest in the laws that set up and guide municipal operation; and as long as we have among us unscrupulous people who turn legitimate problems into a platform on which to fight unrelated battles, we can only expect incidents of violent protests in our communities.

The solution is equally simple. Education is not leadership, granted, but, at a minimum, let us direct councillor candidates to have a university degree. Also, ensure that senior municipal management is appointed on merit. This will not mean the sudden disappearance of potholes, but it will create an opportunity for better service delivery, thereby reducing the possibility for often expensive community protests.

- Phepheng is a published author and doctoral candidate at the University of the Western Cape.

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