Zuma calls for rethink on municipalities

President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday condemned the violence of recent service-delivery protests, but also called for a major rethink on the role and functions of municipalities.

“It is clear that we need to do more, and that we need to do things differently,” he told about 280 mayors and municipal managers from across the country in Cape Town.

He said it was possible some municipalities had been given functions they would never be able to fulfil, and that there was a need for “fundamental changes” in the way municipalities were governed.

The meeting, at a community hall in Khayelitsha, was also attended by 15 Cabinet ministers, their directors general and the nine provincial premiers.

Zuma said the meeting, most of which was closed to the media, was “not a local government inquisition but a discussion amongst colleagues and partners to find solutions”.

He said recent service-delivery protests had become violent, criminal and destructive.

“I wish to take this opportunity to state without any ambiguity: this government will not tolerate the destruction of property, the violence and the intimidation that often accompanies protests,” he said.

“There is no cause in a democratic and free society, however legitimate, that justifies the wanton destruction of property and violence that we have witnessed.”

South Africa had a proud history of protest against wrongdoing and injustice, which was what made it the democracy it was today.

“However, burning down libraries, torching houses of people and looting spaza shops do not build a strong nation. It does not solve our legitimate problems.”

But while the negative elements of some of the protests were condemned, it also had to be acknowledged that there were challenges that needed urgent attention.

Zuma said many municipalities were bankrupt, and some were owed revenue, even by other government spheres.

National and provincial government departments currently owed municipalities R53-million for services, something the leaders in those departments needed to act on without delay.

Power struggles
In addition, many municipalities faced a “deep crisis of governance” due to political power struggles.

“These battles for control over resources render the affected municipalities effectively dysfunctional,” he said.

Some municipalities lacked the basic administrative systems necessary for collecting the revenue to fund service delivery. There was also weak financial management, which often resulted in irregular spending, corruption and adverse audit reports.

Zuma said there had to be a rethink on the role that other spheres of government played in the local government sphere.
Experience showed the role of provincial and national spheres had not always been useful or productive.

“There are often too many administrative burdens they place on municipalities, too many requests for reports for this or that,” he said to applause from his audience.

Sometimes the other two spheres of government made decisions that had serious implications for local government without consulting it.

“So if local government has to work better we have to drastically rethink the relationship between local government and the other spheres.”

He asked whether municipalities with vastly different capacities could be expected to perform the same functions.

“Answering this question is important because it may well be the case that we have entrusted some responsibilities to certain municipalities which they can never be able to fulfil.

“It is equally possible that some municipalities, especially metros, can perform more functions than we have given them.”

Zuma said it was clear fundamental reforms were needed in the way municipalities were governed. These should include separating executive functions from administrative ones.

“In some municipalities councillors tend to interfere in administrative management and operations of municipalities. They want to be mayor and municipal manager at the same time,” he said, as Western Cape Premier and former Cape Town mayor Helen Zille, seated behind him, smiled to herself.

After Zuma’s address the media were asked to leave the meeting.

Delegates were scheduled in a closed session to hear a “presentation on budget and economic crisis” by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, view a video on the presidential complaints hotline, then spend an hour-and-a-half talking about “service-delivery improvement at a local level”.—Sapa

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