Too often land for the poor is demarcated in apartheid fashion far from employment opportunities, President Thabo Mbeki told the South African Local Government Association (Salga) conference in Midrand on Monday.
”Except for a few cases, there is still a settlement pattern for poor black people to be on the outskirts of town, far from employment,” he said. ”It is unacceptable for the allocation of land close to employment centres to be solely for the upper end of the income market.”
This is a failure to use housing as a catalyst to integrate communities separated by apartheid, Mbeki said.
He further criticised the lack of sports grounds and parks in housing developments. ”Many children grow up with no place to play.”
While Mbeki received a warm welcome from the 1 500 or so delegates, he also criticised many for not responding to the needs of the community.
He said he need not remind certain councillors that they stood for election to serve their communities. Accountability and ethical conduct by municipal leaders remain central pillars of the developmental government.
”Clearly those who decide to stand for election as councillors must be committed to serve their people,” the president said. ”It is wrong to meet them only when the president visits and it is unnecessary for the president to have to remind councillors that their primary responsibility is to serve their people.”
Mbeki also expressed concern about the high turnover of councillors, noting that 60% of them elected last year were new. ”So we have ditched 60% of the old ones … I don’t know what impact that has on the quality of work of local government.”
He noted that the people who carry the heaviest load in local government are the mayors and councillors. It is essential that other spheres of government not be obstacles to the work of councillors, and provide help to them when it is requested.
Progress being made in local government is often overshadowed by continuous allegations of maladministration and corruption. Challenges lie ahead to ensure sound financial management and financially viable municipalities.
Mbeki called on Salga to use the conference to explore how it can make itself more accountable for what happens in local government; how it can improve its ability to anticipate tension in poor communities; and the practical role it can play in the fight against poverty and underdevelopment.
He further called on the association to ask how it can make members who bring local government into disrepute accountable for their actions.
Later in the day, the Salga national conference wound up with word of the 2010 Soccer World Cup possibly offering opportunities to all municipalities.
Dennis Mumble of the local organising committee told delegates his organisation is in discussions with world soccer body Fifa about the possibility of fan parks being allowed in all municipalities.
Mumble also urged councillors to think about security and accommodation capacity, should their areas accommodate base camps for visiting teams. He advised them to attract 2010 soccer tourists to their areas outside the 90 minutes they would be watching their teams in stadiums.
Meanwhile, delegates raised concern over the resignation last year of Salga chief executive Makhosi Khosa; the government plan to create a single civil service across national, provincial and local governments; allegations of untrained managers appointed through political party favour; and the issue of training opportunities for councillors.
The Salga meeting, with the theme Together Strengthening Local Government to Alleviate Poverty and Create Jobs through Accelerated Service Delivery, is set to continue for the rest of the week.
Salga is an employer body that acts as a voice of local government. — Sapa