Infrastructure development in local government linked with cogent industrial policy is the only path to viable municipalities
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Municipalities in South Africa do not have the infrastructure or a viable plan to link up societal needs and decentralised economic growth to create viable municipalities.
It is now accepted that the corrupt tender system, pervasive destruction of existing infrastructure, and failure to expand infrastructure inherited from the apartheid government after 1994 have contributed mainly to municipalities' deteriorating infrastructure balance sheet.
The problem of poor infrastructure is made worse by the lack of coherent plans to reimagine South Africa's cities outside apartheid spatial planning – we should expand on this view.
Since 1994, South Africa has gone down a path of deindustrialisation with devastating consequences on the economy. As the economy continues to deteriorate, with no prospects of a turning point, the ruling party continues to implement misguided austerity-orientated fiscal policy.
It is generally accepted that deindustrialisation has left many cities and towns without any viable and independent economy outside the financial sector concentrated in the three provinces, i.e., Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Western Cape. Even towns with mining activities do not have viable economic activities. This is because the infrastructure, transport, and logistics infrastructure are designed to transport natural and raw material to the ocean without any form of localised beneficiation.
In addition to deindustrialisation, there has never been a believable plan that sought to reshape towns and cities outside metros as many of them continue to resemble apartheid spatial planning. Millions of black people continue to live in concentrated informal settlements without water, electricity, and sanitation. Municipalities have made hundreds of qualified and competent town planners redundant as there is no effort to plan towns different to the wishes and ideas of racist apartheid town planners.
Consequently, municipalities cannot administer even the most basic planning, let alone planning complex infrastructure to deliver water, housing, electricity, and sanitation. More than 68% of municipalities lack skills, with more than 50 municipalities with a vacancy rate of more than 30%. Overall, the average vacancy rate at municipalities is more than 21%, while in senior management and finance units is more than 18%. Because of this incapacity, it is estimated that more than 14 million people do not have access to clean and drinkable water, and 34% of households do not have access to water supply services.
While deindustrialisation destroys jobs and the economy, industrialisation can develop economically viable towns, cities, and municipalities. Infrastructure development in local government linked with cogent industrial policy is the only path to viable towns, cities and municipalities anchored on economic localisation and redistributive policies. The form and character of infrastructure development in local government, linked with cogent industrial policy, can only be driven by localised economic growth and municipal plans and not top-down policies from the national sphere of government.
Five practical and decisive interventions are urgently needed to achieve infrastructure development in local government-linked with clear industrial policy. Firstly, all municipalities must develop a clear, practical, and implementable plan that seeks to depart from apartheid spatial planning to bring people closer to economic opportunities, places of work and schools. At the centre of reimagined cities are decisive strategies that will provide people with quality spacious houses with flushing toilets, work, and a decent life with food security.
Secondly, all municipalities in South Africa must abolish tenders for infrastructure development and maintenance. Instead, municipalities must hire well-qualified, trained, experienced engineers and artisans to train junior engineers. Consequently, efficient resources allocation will allow small, medium, and large local government infrastructure projects to create sustainable jobs.
Thirdly, infrastructure development in local government must be centred on a clear and practical land-use plan. Municipalities cannot afford to spend limited resources to buy stolen land to build infrastructure, particularly houses, sanitation, and water infrastructure.
Fourthly, any infrastructure development in local government must stimulate industrialisation. Municipalities must build roads, water and sanitation infrastructure that will allow companies to build factories, produce goods and create jobs.
Lastly, infrastructure development at local government must prioritise local procurement of all infrastructure consumables such as pipes, chemicals, steel, and other products that construction of water, electricity and sanitation infrastructure will require.
This will mean that municipalities must ensure that they build administrative capacity to source correct products from local suppliers and, in return, create demand on jobs and offer decent salaries for workers.
Floyd Shivambu is the deputy president of the EFF and a Member of Parliament