Editorial: The ANC is fiddling while SA burns

When the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) went into a special four-day meeting this week, it gave the nation the impression that the party’s leaders were finally getting serious about fixing the country’s problems.

The NEC dedicated the first two days to discussing our failing local government system. The third day was about the tanking economy, and the fourth was for normal NEC business.

After the meeting, ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule said that one of the key priorities was the implementation of the “district development model”, which would aim “to improve cooperative governance through realigning the three spheres of government to ensure joint planning, budgeting, implementation and monitoring”.

We await more details to see how this new model will actually enhance the functioning of local government, particularly when it comes to helping them provide basic services and boosting their financial viability.

We have been through so many “innovations” in local government over the past 25 years that we can be forgiven for being cynical.

Every year, more municipalities sink into debt and are unable to pay salaries and other obligations.

But, disturbingly, irregular expenditure is also increasing. And, as the Auditor-General has pointed out, there are no consequences for those involved.

Another outcome of the NEC meeting was that government would lead the way in encouraging a culture of payment for services.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has made this call several times this year.

But, as the party is well aware, no one will listen to the NEC’s words if they are not accompanied by an actual resolve to act on them at a local level.

In many municipalities across South Africa, residents are getting away with not paying for services. While the bleak economic situation means many poor people cannot afford to pay, there are many more people who can pay but choose not to.

As the example of people living in Soweto who won’t pay their R18 billion bill for electricity demonstrates, they are aware that the governing party is afraid to antagonise its voting base by acting firmly and enforcing the law.

So, ultimately, all of the deep and serious deliberations that the ANC leadership engages in will amount to nothing if not accompanied by action.

It all feels like fiddling while Rome burns.

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August 2020

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