The writer says when large corporations like Massmart are closing as many as 34 stores, rendering large numbers of people unemployed, it cannot be business as usual. Photo: Supplied
CAPE TOWN – We are now about 15 months away from local government elections.

There is going to be a flurry of political activity, with politicians criss-crossing the length and breadth of the country, promising the electorate things that will be done for them should they elect them into power.

At that time it will be difficult to raise awkward questions, like: what has been done over the past 25 years since 1996 when the Constitution came into force?

How much have municipalities done by way of using economic resources such as land and other economic resources to meet the needs of communities?

Anecdotes abound telling the tragic stories of neglect of infrastructure that has deteriorated into dysfunction.

In South Africa, the resources are still there, but need to be structured, managed and administered.

I was involved in a project in the Pixley-ka-Seme district municipality, in a town called Petrusville, located at the confluence of the Orange River and the Gariep.

There is arable land of 5000ha with the potential for agricultural development. A plan was developed which envisioned starting a pilot project that mentors a thousand local farmers and plants cash crops to feed malnourished children as well as build pack-houses to process the produce and export finished products.

But the process was stunted when it came to funding a business plan for the initiative because the district municipality did not have the funds for the development. How many municipalities find themselves in this position, where there are potential good opportunities, but are stunted by a shortage of funding resources?

Recently, we learn that Treasury has allocated 9 percent of the national budget to municipalities. The question to be asked is whether it is not time for the allocation to include a percentage ring-fenced for funding of development projects in municipalities?

These funds could be syndicated with private-sector funds for specific projects that would generate economic development, create and re-vitalise existing infrastructure and create jobs for large numbers of people. In agriculture it is possible these projects can be identified, in each municipality, be packaged into implementable business plans and executed accordingly.

Some of us have been advocating for a better, more strategic use of municipal land, like commonage land, which needs no capital outlay for securing the land. Most of this land has over the decades been made available to white residents in the past, at nominal rates.

This is land that is already under the authority and jurisdiction of municipalities that could be put to immediate use to comply with the constitutional obligations imposed on municipalities.

The government does not have to be the sole source of this funding, but there could be syndicated funding with the private sector and donor-funding community.

The private sector expertise in drawing up business plans would go a long way towards making these projects take off from the ground and uplift large numbers of people, in agriculture, agri-processing, tourism, mineral extractive activities and other economic activities.

When large corporations like Massmart are closing as many as 34 stores, rendering large numbers of people unemployed, it cannot be business as usual.

Dr Wallace Mgoqi is the non-executive chairperson of Ayo Technology Solutions, and a former acting judge of the Land Claims Court. He writes in his personal capacity.