Dr Wallace Mgoqi says if we were to focus on the minority of municipalities, which are still doing things the right way- we would be able to see that there is hope for the future. Picture: Ian Landsberg, ANA.
Dr Wallace Mgoqi says if we were to focus on the minority of municipalities, which are still doing things the right way- we would be able to see that there is hope for the future. Picture: Ian Landsberg, ANA.

Is the glass half empty or half full in local government?

By Opinion Time of article published Jul 9, 2021

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Wallace Mgoqi

The latest report of the Auditor General, Tsakani Maluleke, paints a very grim picture of local municipalities facing near collapse.

Out of 257 municipalities only 27 have clean audits in the recent audit. It raises sharply the proverbial question: Is the glass half empty or half full, one referring to a particular situation, which could be a cause for pessimism (half empty) or optimism (half full) or a general litmus test to simply determine an individual or nation,s worldview.

If we were to focus on the municipalities facing near-collapse, we could find ourselves drawn into the misery and tragedy all this represents, and be siphoned into the sinking hole ourselves.

The hope.

But if we were to focus on the minority of municipalities, which are still doing things the right way – we would be able to see that there is hope for the future. The hope lies in the daily activities of the 27 municipalities in doing what they are doing, from the beginning of each financial year to its end. Once we grasp the essence of what they are doing we are going to be able to introduce that into the body-politic of the near-collapse of municipalities.

Having understood what they are doing right – we must painstakingly ensure that they stay the course, by reinforcing what they are doing right – create an environment that will be conducive to them expanding their infrastructure projects, for example, securing the services of private sector role players like Inovasure ( www.inovasure.com), which have total solutions for local government spanning energy security; water security and other products specially designed for municipalities and their clients and citizens.

The minority municipalities could be islands of success in the near future, and in time they could grow and take with them the near-collapse municipalities, until the local government landscape is radically changed.

1.To get there is going to take a lot of hard work on the part of all involved. Part of the hard work is going to involve thinking hard as to why and how we got to where we are today? The desktop evaluation will reveal that we allowed, through the deployment system, people who are incompetent to go into a position of administration, just to have a job; we also left behind all the values we held dear during our course of struggle such as stewardship; Webster's dictionary defines as “a person who manages or attends to another’s property or financial affairs” – being a servant to someone else and someone else’s interests.

We left behind values of being faithful to the cause of serving our people, and adopted selfishness as a dominant value. We started seeing a new breed of cadres who were putting themselves first and people last. Those who got into positions of power and influence, abuse such positions in a manner that defies being written about. Mayors and municipal managers who would buy the most expensive vehicles for themselves, they used to define themselves materially, exploit unsuspecting women, and engage in splurges using the public purse, with impunity. This is a counter-culture that must be defeated, period.

Batho Pele/ people first

These men, because principally they were men, set new standards that led to a drift away from the original values of people first – Batho Pele, to “its our time to eat culture“.

See them as soon as they ascend to power: they remove powerful women of integrity and surround themselves with their ilk and find ways of deploying women far from the centre of power. Most of these men are still in these positions, the question is: Are we going to allow these kind of people to continue in leadership positions? As we approach local government elections these are questions we are going to have to ask ourselves. This outlook is a far cry from what were fighting for. We always understood that it was not about us getting, and even grabbing for ourselves, but about giving for others to benefit from our self-sacrifices.

2. No person was ever honoured for what he received. Honour has been the reward for what he gave. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Robert Mangaliso Sobukhwe and Steve Bantu Biko are honoured for giving, even giving of their lives. Those who give for others to benefit thereby, and carve their names on the hearts of people forever.

We must fear those who want to write their epitaphs on the basis that they fought so hard for this democracy that their reward is anything they demand, even committing crimes and go scot-free. We know that responsibility is the thing people dread most of all. Yet it is the one thing in the world that develops us, gives us womanhood, manhood … fibre. Responsibility is built as we take life in our stride and acknowledge failures, disappointments and faults.

This counte-culture of rampant greed and wanton avarice is a lie, and as Archbishop Demond Tutu said, over the loud hailer, at Steve Biko’s funeral in Ginsberg, Kingwilliamstown, in September, 1977, predicting the demise of apartheid: “No lie can last forever”.

Another truth the Arch uttered, that it took time for me to receive in my spirit as such, also shared by Dr Mamphela Ramphele, was that as men we needed to give way for women leaders to take the reins of leadership, as we had our time and just messed up. Women would bring a different brand of leadership that is qualitatively higher and better than male leadership. As I have been growing older I have come to accept that this is true – indeed, many receive advice, only the wise profit by it.

We the citizens must defeat this lie as well. We must accept the truth and be wise. What we have witnessed in all levels of government, does not define who we are, as a people. We are by far better than this.

3. A story is told :

“When England needed to increase its production of coal during World War 2, Winston Churchill called labour leaders together to enlist their support . He asked them to picture in their minds a parade in Piccadilly Circus after the war. First, he said, would come the sailors who kept the critical sea lanes open. Then would come the soldiers who had returned from Dunkirk after defeating Rommel in Africa. Then would come the pilots who had wiped the Luftwaffe from the skies.

Next would come a long line of sweat-stained, soot-streaked men in miners’ caps. As Churchill painted the scene for the labour leaders, he envisioned someone crying out from the crowd, “And where were you during the critical days of our struggle ? And from 10 000 throats would come the answer,

“We were deep in the earth with our faces to the coal.”

Not everyone can become number one – not every person can reside at the top of any profession, company , or institution. Not everybody can be “the star” But every person can be a hero, a person of value, a person who plays a vital role in seeing a greater good accomplished.

Every person can make a significant contribution in whatever they do.

This is who we are, this is what the former teacher and principal, and now the Mayor of Senqu Municipality is teaching us. We need not try to be men or women of material success. Rather, to become men or women of value. Mposelwa comes in a long line of women of substance who live according to foundational values, that guide them on a daily basis.

But we have a more urgent task at hand, that of encouraging the minority municipalities to what they are doing right and excel, while at the same time, we take extra-ordinary measures like appointing a super administrator to help the Auditor-General to rescue the near-collapse of municipalities.

4. There arealso international investors who are keen to invest seriously in infrastructure development, renewable energy, oil refinery and storage facilities as well as in agriculture projects with export products – ranging from entry levels in funding of $10m (R142m) or R140m upwards.

Where do we begin?

I suggest that even among the minority municipalities, we take, says the Senqu Local Municipality, which boasts seven years, in succession of receiving unqualified audits. It is a local municipality covering the far-flung rural towns of Lady Frere ND Barkly East and surrounded by 70 villages. It has already impacted the residents of the area under its jurisdiction, but has a potential for doing even more.

It is said that:

“Perhaps once in a hundred years a person may be ruined by excessive praise, but surely every minute someone dies inside for lack of it.”

This is to congratulate the Mayor Nomvuyo Mposelwa, in her fifth year as Mayor of Senqu Local Municipality, and for maintaining a seven year record of clean audits for this municipality.

As a human rights and gender rights activist, the mind goes back to more than 70 years, (at the launch of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by the United Nations), to what that woman icon of human rights, Eleanor Roosevelt had to say, in the form of a rhetorical question, when she asked : “Where, after all, do human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination.

5. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

A call to citizen action.

This a call to citizen action, to make human rights, human dignity, a reality in the lives of not only urban citizens, but also and more importantly, to citizens living in far-flung remote rural areas; such that in the future a child born in these areas does not have to dream of liveable life, only in terms of urban life.

This one local municipality and its leader is telling us it is possible for a municipality to have a clean audit and for both political office-bearers and municipal officials to work towards the same goal, and thereby create an environment conducive to even companies to want to come and invest in such an environment.

This at a time when some companies are taking flight from certain municipalities for lack of service delivery, that strangulate their businesses, resulting in badly-needed loss of jobs.

More than 70 years later, since the launch of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, this municipality is challenging us, to mobilise resources, intellectual, material, financial, and plans that can answer the question Roosevelt raised rhetorically and in respect of which Mposelwa and the other leaders of the minority municipalities have laid a solid foundation for us to build upon.

We know that: “No horse gets anywhere until he is harnessed. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated, disciplined “

So it is going to take a lot of harnessing of talents and focused attention and discipline to make this local municipality what we all dream a municipality should be, for the benefit of its citizens, its ( raison d’ etre) very reason or justification for existence.

6.This is where other mayors, politicians/councillors and municipal managers miss it, in thinking that a municipal budget is a milk-cow, to be milked dry, at the expense of provision of services like, water, sanitation, electricity and other facilities as these are run to the ground. This is untenable and must stop here, and only citizen action is going to make it happen.

Successful leaders, among other things:

– Set goals for themselves and require the same of the people around them;

– They take pride in confronting and overcoming obstacles that blind their vision, and

– They are willing to do things losers refuse to do, until winning becomes a habit.

– They infect those around them with the same zeal and passion for success in what is to be done.

Conclusion:

This is what should make us to see the glass as half-full, and energise us to want to propel these minority municipalities to a level where they become even more successful, bringing close the dawning of the day, when our citizens, children, boys and girls, whether urban or rural will experience a quality of life, with human dignity, wherever they are.

It should be a matter of choice, whether one lives in either context, urban or rural. The development of these areas into vibrant and benevolent communities will even mitigate the rampant rural-urban migration, as life will be more stable and the areas will hold their people down. Municipalities are the backbone of such development. These minority municipalities and their leaders give us hope that this thing can be done, we can turn things around for good.

7. “We succeed only as we identify in lif , or in war, or in anything else, a single overriding objective, and make all other considerations bend to that one objective ” [ Dwight D Eisenhower].

*Dr Wallace Mgoqi is the chairperson of Ayo Technology Solutions, and former acting Judge, Land Claims Court, writing in his personal capacity.

*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites.

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