Zelna Jansen
Zelna Jansen

The role and purpose of local government and why it is important to vote in the upcoming elections

By Opinion Time of article published Oct 14, 2021

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OPINION: The aim is to bring government closer to the people because national and provincial governments are not suited to interact and engage with citizens at grassroots level, writes Zelna Jansen.

South Africans will be voting for the ward councillors and political parties on 1 November. Local government is by far the most important government election. Citizens will be voting for a ward councillor that will represent their community in the municipal council. This means that citizens will be directly affected by the political and governing decisions made by their municipal council.

As background, local governments comprise of municipalities. A municipality is a geographical area as defined by the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB). The MDB is an independent authority responsible for determining the boundaries for municipalities, districts and the boundaries of the electoral wards within municipalities. These municipal areas are governed by municipal councils which are elected every five years. On 1 November, South Africans will vote, firstly on a proportional representative ballot to vote for a party. A party will be given seats in terms of the percentage of votes it received. Each party has a list of candidates, and councillors will be drawn from that list. There will also be a ballot with various names of ward councillors for community members to vote for a ward councillor for their ward. The person with the most votes will win.

Municipal councils will consist of half elected party councillors and half ward councillors. It is important to note that if you live in a metro, you will receive two ballots to vote for a ward councillor and political party. However, if you live in a local municipality, you will also vote for a party to represent you in a district council. The council is the main representative organ of local government. Its decisions are carried out by municipal administration which is headed by a municipal manager and skilled staff must implement decisions and programmes of the municipal council.

Local government is therefore structured in a way that South Africa is divided into wards that are headed politically by a ward councillor. The aim is to bring government closer to the people because national and provincial governments are not suited to interact and engage with citizens at grassroots level.

Returning to why local government is an important election. The Constitution sets out the mandate for local government in Schedules 4 and 5 under Part B. Local government mandate includes, refuse collection, public roads, electricity, water and sanitation services.

However, equally important is section 152 of the Constitution, which sets out the objectives of municipalities. These are: “(a) to provide democratic and accountable government for local communities; (b) to ensure the provision of services to communities in a sustainable manner; (c) to promote social and economic development; (d) to promote a safe and healthy environment; and (e) to encourage the involvement of communities and community organizations’ in the matters of local government.”

When it comes to local government, much emphasis has been placed on service delivery and that is correct. However, there is more to local government than only service delivery. To achieve the objective set out in section 152, the municipality must put in place multi-sectoral plans focusing on community development, how to curb crime, making public places safer and many other issues. This should also be done in consultation with the community. The ward councillor must also be aware of what policies and plans are in place by national and provincial government and how he or she can access funds, skills training and resources to build up the community over the five-year plan.

For example, a community wants to develop farming or the farming of a particular produce in its area. The ward councillor must know who to speak to, to obtain support for such a venture, be it funding, or technical support from the Department of Agriculture, Department of Small Business Development or the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition.

The ward councillor would also have to be in a position to find out which businesses to approach, that may be interested in buying such a product. Another example is, in your community you feel learners do not have access to enough information about universities, what careers to follow or where to obtain bursaries. The local library could be transformed into an information hub where learners and community members can obtain this information. A community member could approach the ward councillor for assistance in identifying who to invite. Once ward councillors are elected to municipal councils, integrated development plans will be drafted and adopted. These plans must be developed with the communities and have initiatives such as the above to bring about development in communities.

It is therefore of the utmost importance to vote in the local government elections taking place on 1 November. It is just as important for community members to familiarise themselves with aspirant ward party councillors and the manifestos of political parties vying for their vote and make informed decisions about who will be heading up their ward and representing them in the municipal councils.

*Zelna Jansen is a lawyer. She is CEO of the Zelna Jansen Consultancy.

** The views expressed here may not be that of IOL.

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