OPINION | Local government is the coalface for pandemic recovery

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Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) staff members empty the ballot box at the Brixton Recreational Centre voting station in Brixton, Johannesburg. (Michele Spatari / AFP)
Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) staff members empty the ballot box at the Brixton Recreational Centre voting station in Brixton, Johannesburg. (Michele Spatari / AFP)

Heading to the polls later this year, residents have one of the most important decisions to make. If we are to properly recover from the pandemic and look toward a more hopeful future, the decision isn't just about loyalty to one brand, writes DA Western Cape Committee Spokesperson on Local Government, Derrick America

The Cederberg municipality has been in the news for the wrong reasons and on a topic to which we are too accustomed: corruption.

Fresh allegations have come forward that the former Speaker of Council took food straight out of the mouths of residents when Mandela Day food parcels were paid for, but never delivered.

That former Speaker is now the ANC's Shadow Minister for Local Government at the provincial parliament. MPL Danville Smith continues to serve without suspension. He has not been disciplined or sanctioned in any way by his party.

It is because of this kind of corrupt activity that most municipalities in South Africa do not pass the Auditor-General's tests, including that of obtaining a clean audit. In layman's terms, a clean audit tells us that money has been spent where it matters, on what matters.

The sad reality in our country is that residents can never bank on this.

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The long-standing exception is the Western Cape. 45% of the country's clean audits are concentrated within the province and, according to Ratings Afrika, Cape Town is the only metro in the country with financial sustainability. DA-led administrations elsewhere, such as Mossel Bay and Midvaal, also dominate top spots in governance reports. 

Moving forward, we identify three critical areas for local governments to focus their efforts towards. These areas are the contrast to corruption. They are what truly matters for moving beyond the devastating blows of the pandemic. 

The first focus area is jobs – getting people back to work, safely

In recovery, governments must provide for a conducive environment that attracts investments and job creation. Just last year, the City of Cape Town was able to finalise a combined amount R7.7 billion from major global corporations which function as job-generators, including Google, Amdec, Capita and Teraco. In the business outsourcing (BPO) sector, a total of 6 399 job opportunities were created between January and December 2020, with an expected 3 000 to be obtained over the next three years. 

The provincial agricultural sector has been integral to supporting livelihoods. The food, beverages and tobacco sector employed 17 000 more people in 2020, despite the pressures of a global recession. This is a continuation of its long-term employment trend, in which 58 000 jobs were created between 2009 and 2019.

The second key aspect is dignity – providing a series of safety nets for those in need and making sure that the rights to basic service delivery is intact

Western Cape municipalities lead in all consumer unit metrics relating to receiving free basic water, electricity, sewerage and sanitation, and solid waste management services. Not only does this prove that our governments are efficient and deliver on its promise, but further shows the commitment to caring, pro-poor governance.

In contrast, we have seen how ANC-run municipalities in the province have continued to fall into disrepute. Notably, Beaufort West, Cederberg, Kannaland and Matizkama collectively owe Eskom almost R90 million in their electricity bills. Furthermore, despite the lack of sound financial conditions, which resulted in it being under the provinces administration in 2018, the Kannaland municipality attempted to push through an electricity outsourcing deal to the value of R735 million. If it were not for the provincial government stepping in, the municipality would likely have plunged into darkness and cemented its residents in long-term uncertainty.

As such, one can only imagine the severity of the local governance outside the province. For example, take the country's largest metro. Apart from loadshedding having been brought back again earlier this year, Joburg has experienced "water shedding", despite a full Vaal dam. One month ago, between 20-45% of the bulk water supply in the metro was at risk of being cut off owing to poor reservoir management. This is a very basic, fundamental function of governing a city, which the ANC is unable or unwilling to do.

Even during the dark days of approaching Day Zero in Cape Town, with water levels at one point being 13.5%, a clean water supply was still provided and not once was the city "water shed". 

After facing one of the worst droughts in 100 years, the City of Cape Town has formalised its New Water Programme, which is projected to add 300 million litres of water per day by 2030. This would be the result of a diversified approach that includes desalination, ground water abstraction and water reuse – in addition to ensuring that surface water loss is mitigated through the clearing of alien vegetation. The City and the province have also committed to a greener future that safeguards the local environment. By 2022, 50% of food waste is to be diverted from landfills, with 100% hoping to be achieved by 2027. 

And the final priority area is safety – every community must be secure 

Confidence in our police (SAPS) force is at an all-time low, and with the overwhelming increase in both organised and opportunistic crime over lockdown, we have had to see sub-national governments involved. This is because we recognise that, without safe streets, no one can expect a society and economy to recover.

Despite SAPS being the lead agency for policing and security, the Western Cape government has taken on a crucial role to help fight crime. 3 000 new security personnel will be deployed by 2024 in this struggle, and with the additional deployment already in the Cape Flats, scores have been arrested and criminal activities prevented or stopped. This initiative will also make use of proactive measures to prevent youth falling into criminal activities by emphasising early child development programmes. 

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In more rural areas of the Western Cape, such as the Swartland and West Coast municipalities, the province launched K9 units to assist with fighting crime. This includes activities which fuel crime, such as the drug trade and poaching.

A choice to recover, stronger and together 

Heading to the polls later this year, residents have one of the most important decisions to make. If we are to properly recover from the pandemic and look toward a more hopeful future, the decision isn't just about loyalty to one brand. It is equally not about continuing a tradition, or being lured by unattainable promises.

Rather, it is about making a mark that serves to build a courageous legacy, starting right at the grassroots of government. How each of us votes this year contributes to our recovery, across communities, neighbourhoods and at all municipalities: the coalface of service delivery.

Derrick America is the DA Western Cape Committee Spokesperson on Local Government.

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