An increase in voter apathy was evident by the low voter turnout for local government elections held on November 1, says the writer. Picture: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency (ANA)
An increase in voter apathy was evident by the low voter turnout for local government elections held on November 1, says the writer. Picture: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency (ANA)

Disputes over candidate councillors could derail municipalities

By Time of article published Nov 20, 2021

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By Zelna Jansen

A key characteristic of local government is the fact that it is the government at the grassroots. In other words, it is the government that is closest to the people. It should incorporate the local people in all its activities and serve as an intermediary between the people and the government. This will assist in giving residents a say in governing matters and is an important feature of South Africa’s democracy.

An increase in voter apathy was evident by the low voter turnout for local government elections held on November 1. A staggering 38% of South Africans chose not to register to vote in local government elections and of the registered voters, only 48% cast their vote. A clear indication that South African citizens feel hopeless in changing the environments they live in through the measures of participating and holding politicians accountable.

Some communities have even resorted to petitioning municipal councils to remove their ward councillors. In 2016 and 2017, residents of King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape submitted a memorandum to the municipal council, requesting the removal of a councillor. The councillor was accused of corruption and incompetence. The councillor however remained in his position, and it is not clear whether or how that matter was resolved.

In responding to a parliamentary question, Police Minister Bheki Cele stated there were 900 protests from the period August 1 last year to January 31. The protests were recorded as crowd management unrest-related incidents. The minister further added that a total of 657 persons were arrested from 1 August 2020 to 31 January for service delivery protest action incidents, in which illegal road closures were erected.

Despite the loss of hope in democracy, citizens have participated through boycotting elections and service delivery protests. It is unfortunate that the majority of these protests were illegal.

During the local government elections campaign, President Cyril Ramaphosa promised voters that corrupt councillors would be removed, and service delivery would improve. The commitment was sparked by angry communities complaining about councillors being imposed on them.

The president responded that candidates were democratically elected through an inclusive free and fair process. However, prior to the local government elections, there were several disputes about the candidate lists that some claimed were manipulated. This has resulted in members of the ANC protesting in uMgungundlovu District’s Moses Mabhida Region.

Protests are also planned in other regions, where ANC members are unhappy with the councillors they elected in the elections.

These unresolved matters will interfere with governance and compromise service delivery. If service delivery is compromised, there could be provincial interventions that could include dissolving a municipality. Such a measure will result in a by-election. Community members unhappy with their councillors, can submit a complaint to the Ethics and Disciplinary Committee of a municipal council.

Section 27(d) of the Local Government: Municipal Structures Act of 2000, provides that when a councillor contravenes a provision of the Code of Conduct for Councillors set out in Schedule 1 of the Act, the councillor can be removed from office. The committee will consider the complaint and if the findings are valid, submit a report on it to the municipal council. The council will review the report and if it adopts the report, the councillor will be removed. This will also result in a by-election.

Another option would be for community members to submit their complaint to the political party of the councillor. Section 27(c) of the Municipal Structure Act provides that a councillor vacates his or her office when he or she was elected from a party list referred to in Schedule 1 or 2 and ceases to be a member of the relevant party.

Community members could lobby and find ways of putting pressure and influence the political party to remove the councillor. A political party should investigate and resolve the matter in an inclusive free and fair process. If it is concluded that the councillor should be expelled from the political party, the councillor will subsequently lose his office in council. This will also result in a by-election. By-elections mean that a political party would have lost a seat in the council and would have to campaign for the residents’ vote again. No political party wants to lose seats in a municipal council and will therefore not easily expel a member. Particularly, if it means that it could potentially lose a seat in a by-election.

Therefore, it is possible that a report from the Ethics and Disciplinary Committee recommending the removal of a councillor, could be opposed by the political party of the councillor. If a political party holds most seats in a municipal council, it could reject a report recommending the removal of a councillor.

If the president keeps to his undertaking of removing corrupt and incompetent councillors, it is likely that by-elections will increase, affording communities another opportunity to vote for councillors they prefer.

However, the ANC lost 600 elected councillors’ seats across South Africa, resulting in it receiving 46% of the vote, coming below 50% for the first time. It will not quickly want to go for by-elections and risk losing further seats. Therefore, if the status quo remains, citizens can exercise their right to vote in the next elections to remove councillors they consider corrupt and incompetent.

* Zelna Jansen is a lawyer and CEO of Zelna Jansen Consultancy.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.

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