Some councillors had shown disdain for the law and the culture of accountability.
The frustration and anger expressed by residents through service delivery protests before the May 8 elections proved beyond doubt that the country’s local government had become the biggest political, economic and social liability.
With the 2021 local government elections coming, the issue of local government performance needs to be an urgent one or that election day could be revolution day.
Although ruling parties in different municipalities want us to believe that they are in control of the situation, residents are continuously inundated with reports of mayors, councillors and municipal managers not upholding their public mandates and not adhering to the principle of good governance, namely accountability, integrity and responsiveness.
There is no doubt that unless strong action is taken against the corrupt and dysfunctional municipalities, residents will shun the 2021 local government elections. This calls for bold decisions and effective programmes to reconnect councillors and residents in order to regain local government confidence. After all, local government can and should serve as a catalyst to bring resources, people, programmes and plans together to accomplish common local goals.
In the wake of the KZN ANC’s support having dropped by 10% in the May 8 national and provincial elections, the party needs to be applauded for taking urgent and bold decisions against municipalities implicated by the latest Auditor General’s report as dysfunctional.
Though the issues were badly handled, the intention will be accepted by members and citizens as a step towards the right direction.
For instance, the issues of crime and corruption associated with the mayors of Newcastle and eThekwini Metro should have been dealt with summarily.
The PEC has political authority to deploy, recall and redeploy - why did it fail to use that authority? This has sent a message of indecisiveness and being soft on these serious transgressions.
Though the two leaders have not been found guilty by the courts, the accusations are serious enough to demand urgent action in the perception-ridden political space.
It is my belief that mayors are not the only ones responsible for local government failures.
Councillors and municipal officials are also responsible. Hence the PEC should have consulted communities to find out whether they were happy with performances of councillors.
Councillors have tarnished local government’s image and reputation, and as a result it no longer commands public confidence, trust, support, acceptance and importance.
The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci) has warned the government that the financial doldrums of local government were inhibiting economic and development performances and a big threat to the country’s investment drive. “It is Sacci’s view that the manner in which municipalities are led, managed and operated is the primary cause of their problems. Government’s own current practice of how leadership and management are appointed to run its municipalities is where all problems start.”
It is high time that the ANC realises the fact that having skilled and competent people driving the engine of delivery are absolute prerequisites if they are to deliver basic services to the masses. While honesty and capacity should be prerequisites for selection to be a councillor, skills and not political affiliation should be the main criterion for employment or advancement in local government.
It is unfortunate that party members have turned local government into a fertile ground for feathering their nests through corruption and looting.
Like other municipalities elsewhere, KZN municipalities, particularly eThekwini and Msunduzi, have been the worst performers over the past three years.
The PEC’s decisions to change their leaderships are welcomed but a lot still needs to done to change their fortunes ahead of the 2021 elections.
Now the PEC’s focus needs to shift to ensuring that the eThekwini and Msunduzi’s elective regional congresses take place within a genuine democratic environment in order to ensure that their outcomes are accepted by all.
The conferences are expected to be highly contested. And for the PEC to emerge with honest and capable leaders that will appeal to voters in 2021, it has to give support to branches to run their election process freely and fairly.
Or else the PEC’s current decision is likely to backfire as the fired mayors are likely to retreat to their branches and mobilise for their comebacks.
Do not be surprised if a number of independent candidates who were former ANC councillors contest the coming elections.
For now the PEC’s decision is a landmark one - I, wish others learn from it.
Khumalo is an independent political analyst.