Pretoria - The issue of consultation or public participation in the redetermination of the boundary was at the heart of the violence in Vuwani ahead of the 2016 local government elections, a scientific investigation has revealed.
Titled “We didn’t ask for Municipality - Unintended Consequences of Municipal Boundary Re-determination: Vuwani at a Glance”, the report was released during a seminar at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in Pretoria on Tuesday.
It was described by Municipal Demarcation Board chairperson Jane Thupana as an eye-opener and a call to to do things differently.
In addition, Thupana said, the board had to be careful in future that it didn’t steer the demarcation process closer to the elections. “For the board, each case is a learning curve and we find something that can improve on in our system.”
The report explored the reasons residents resorted to violence following a decision to incorporate their area into a new municipality, and sharply put in the spotlight the issue of consultation by highlighting the level of dissatisfaction among residents with the process.
Chief researcher Modimowabarwa Kanyane said: “The voices of Vuwani residents show that residents hold different understandings of what consultation should entail, as opposed to what the board holds is stipulated by law.”
One of residents, also a teacher, begged to differ with the notion that residents were consulted. Thupana said: “You said this is a quote that was taken from an educator. We are taking it that these are people in the community, who are very literate, seem not to understand how the board operates.”
She said there was a need to enhance public education and public engagement to ensure the law was understood. However, she said the fact that the majority of people expressed a differing view to the board decision would not have necessarily persuaded it to change its legal standing on the matter.
“Unfortunately, in terms of the Demarcation Act the majority is not the arbiter the arbiter is the criteria that we find in the legislation. Consultation should take place, but ultimately there are criteria that should decide how municipalities are demarcated.
“If at all, the board would go overboard and try to be sympathetic with some grouping ignoring the criteria, it can be taken to court (and) that demarcation would be unlawful and set aside,” she said.
She noted that during consultations some communities were represented by traditional leaders.
“People would have been represented by their traditional leaders. It is the people’s choice in some areas that they want the traditional leader to represent them. When the board goes out to consult with communities, you find that individuals represent themselves sometimes. We find several cases where traditional leaders are representing their people.”
Thupana urged that the Vuwani matter be approached with sensitivity to avoid reopening matters that had been tested in the courts.
Mpho Mogale, executive manager at Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, said the impasse in the area continued despite previous calls for calm. “The community of Vuwani continues to reject the new municipality of Collins Chabane and would prefer any other person to render services for them except the new municipality,” he said.
He said there was a need for the department to start upscaling the participation of the communities in the demarcation process.
Bheki Stofile, chairperson of the South Africa Local Government Association working group on councillor welfare, said it was unfortunate that the demarcation board was a sacrificial lamb on the matter. “We must acknowledge that we haven’t made serious strides in changing the spatial planning in our country,” he said.
Lebogang Seale, acting editor of the Sunday Independent, said it was important to acknowledge that the area was dogged by scarcity of employment and people relied on the municipality as a job creator. He said people could have revolted against the decision because they were concerned about their chances of getting jobs at the new municipality.