OPINION | Why the District Development Model is needed

Kanana informal settlement in Gugulethu. (Masixole Feni, GroundUp)
Kanana informal settlement in Gugulethu. (Masixole Feni, GroundUp)

The refinement of the District Development Model and the alignment with the Covid-19 response is a shift that will deliver radical socio-economic transformation in small towns, writes Russel Baloyi. 

One might think that reported government corruption, allegedly committed by ANC deployees which robs the poor of their dreams, is something the DA would take up politically to help flatten the corruption curve.

There are countless examples, such as high levels of corruption, unearthed at the Zondo Commission and the current Covid-preneurship which saw the politically connected allegedly benefit from the supply of PPE that offer the official opposition an easy target.

But it has not worked out this way as the opposition is more concerned about retaining control of its municipalities than embracing the District Development Model which would narrow the distance between the people and government and enhance public participation in socio-economic development at a local level.

This, if anything, will complement the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) at the District level.

Given the current socioeconomic crisis and the challenges brought by poor leadership and coordination of government interventions, Nedlac is also fast losing relevance and should be reinforced by the District Development Model if it is to be rejuvenated to be fit for its purpose.

The national minimum wage legislation, for example, was initiated at Nedlac and was received with mixed feelings across the country. It may have been better received if it was initiated at the District level, and who knows, we might have ended with Districts' minimum wages that takes into consideration the specific conditions and sectoral issues per district than the current one size fits all legislation.

Investment in local economic development

Addressing delegates at the Black Business Council Summit 2020 at Gallagher Estate, in Midrand, Gauteng, the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma introduced the District Development Model as a vehicle through which all three spheres of government coordinate and integrate development plans and budgets while also mobilising resources from civil society, business and labour for growth and job creation.

In her address to the Summit, she challenged the black business community to embrace the District Development Model and invest in local economic development.  

This encounter with Minister Dlamini-Zuma and her model took place on 5 March while President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the lockdown on 23 March. The District Development Model was approved by Cabinet and announced long before the lockdown - this, if anything, contradicts the DA's attempt to discredit the model by claiming that it was designed with a hidden agenda by the ANC to illegally take over some municipalities.

This is far from the truth, considering that local economic development has been there for a while and yet most municipalities have failed to get it right. This has led to the current situation where the rural poor are forever attracted to the urban centres only to end up disappointed in many informal settlements that surround our cities.

The DA's take on the District Development Model is nothing but a political response to a progressive development model which aims to address the current government failure of historic proportions.

It is against this background that I find the Democratic Alliance statement characterising the District Development Model as a coup d'état and poorly linking it to the Covid-19 response as worrying, as it affirms the DA's position for the status quo to remain.

There is clear evidence that more work needs to be done to improve capacity and collaborations at the District level if we are to address the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment. 

The opinion piece by DA member Cilliers Brink - Three reasons municipalities fail and why the district model won't solve anything - is a misdiagnosis of the root cause of the problem in our municipalities and confirms the DA's inability to govern beyond its current solid municipal boundaries, which, in the main, are characterised by high levels of racial inequality and better revenue base.  

At the Black Business Council Summit, the model was well received by the black business community as it appears unique and addresses the frustrations and legitimate grievances of communities and black businesses.

After 26 years of democracy, Nedlac and market-driven development are not making any difference to the triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment. The District Development Model, however, is bound to make a difference as it fundamentally differs with other versions of development models such as ASGISA and GEAR in which those at the top or with connections benefitted.

Shift towards small towns

The District Development Model is going to stop the systematic marginalisation of black business and create a platform for black professionals who have always wanted to go back home and improve their villages to do just that and be part of transformation in the development of new towns, which have higher potential for growth and job creation. The shift and focus toward small town development must be welcomed as it does away with the habit of investment being centred in large cities, which are already developed.

It is my request for the DA and all South Africans to embrace the District Development Model as it present an opportunity to review our structures and systems to transform our socio-economic landscape and accommodate black business and marginalised communities, which are very critical constituencies that have been patient for far too long.

Giving local communities voice to shape and inform industrial policy and economic development broadly through the District Development Model will go a long way to remodelling Nedlac, while giving hope to many South Africans. Given that all stakeholders at the local level will be involved, it also gives the hope of unity in local economic development, practically demonstrating that divided we fall and united we stand.

- Russell Baloyi is a Senior Consultant at EnviDev in Johannesburg. He writes in his personal capacity.

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