Pressure mounts over local elections

National Party Cabinet minister Roelf Meyer may relinguish his newly acquired Local Government portfolio in the face of mounting demands for local government to fall under the provincial adminstrations.

Meyer was first appointed Minister of Constitutional Development and Provincial Affairs by President Nelson Mandela when he announced his new cabinet last month. The portfolio of Local Government was only later added to Meyer’s responsibilities. This means Meyer will take charge of the local council elections, scheduled for April next year.

The elections will take place in terms of voters’ rolls, which still have to be drawn up. However, pressure is being exerted by some of the provinces to take charge of their own local elections. They argue that local government is a provincial, not a national, function.

A spokesman for Meyer said this week it was recognised that the portfolio was a temporary one. “Ultimately, local government will resort under the provinces”. Recently. rural development organisations expressed “alarm” because of “the lack of attention paid by the new cabinet” to the issue of local government.

The fact that local government only added by Mandela to Meyer’s portfolio as an “afterthought” was described as worrying by National Rural Development Forum (NRDF) representative Louise Colvin. The portfolio seems to be “without enough power and recognition”, she was quoted as saying. Calls have recently also come from metropolitan and rural areas for changes to the to Local Government Transition Act.

Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban started lobbying for changes to the Act which have bogged down planning for democratic municipal elections this year. The Act sets out a process for appointing metropolitan and local councils in a pre-interim phase before electing transitional councils on a partly race-based roll. The problem is that voters’ rolls cannot be prepared until boundary disputes are resolved.

Redrawing municipal boundaries within new metropolitan council areas provides enormous problems. A Constitutional Development spokesman said it was doubtful that local council elections could still take place this year. lndications are that it will only be practically possible to have the voters’ rolls and municipal boundaries sorted out by March or April next year.

The rural development organisations met earlier this month to discuss recommendations for the establishment of rural local government structures. Rural areas had always been marginalised, a problem that would continue without strong rural structures. There were consensus on the need for district councils.

The RNDF’s programme of action includes seeing members of the national and regional governments as well as provincial committees on local government. Meyer said this week the resolution of problems would be a slow process.

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