Picture: Zelandia/Pixabay – The layer of local municipalities, with mayors and municipal managers of their own, has been the source of corruption that has proven over the years to be endemic, says the writer.
By Dr Wallace Mgoqi
If there is anything to learn from the Zondo Commission on State Capture, it is exactly that: an investigation into state capture, especially focusing on state-owned entities that were the targets of state capture.
However, there is a more insidious yet very rooted and dangerous problem that has led to the parlous state in which the country finds itself today.
This problem, in my view, goes back in recent history, to the very beginnings of our present democratic era, in the way in which local government was structured to function, with metros at the top, followed by district councils and local municipalities.
My hunch or hypothesis, without prejudging the issue, before an investigation, is that the layer of local municipalities, with mayors and municipal managers of their own, has been the source of corruption that has proven over the years to be endemic.
A case in point is that prior to the introduction of the Interim Local Government Act, the City of Cape Town had a central administration and a number of local municipalities, spread across the metropolitan area, but with the introduction of the new dispensation, these local municipalities that had their own show to run, as it were, in their own areas, were drawn into the bigger metro municipality.
With one mayor, one municipal manager, one mayoral committee, and one council, the previous local municipalities served henceforth as administrative offices, where local residents were served with all their local government needs, and service delivery was streamlined accordingly.
No longer did Bellville, Goodwood, Durbanville, Milnerton, or Helderberg have their own show to run, but all were centralised under tight control, over matters financial, policy-related, and administrative, so that all sang, as it were, from the same hymn-sheet.
A municipality like Helderberg went to court to resist the changeover to fall under the City of Cape Town, as it wanted to maintain the status quo ante, under the apartheid dispensation, but lost the battle.
So will local municipalities who have tasted the fruits of independence and freedom from any controls from the above, exercise at the local/district level.
To this day, this system of central control in the City of Cape Town has worked like a bomb, and service delivery is controlled throughout the metropolitan area apart from challenges brought about by an influx of people into the city, a universal and perennial problem faced by all cities, around the world.
I am sure, again without prejudging the outcome of an investigation into the affairs of local government, something which is long overdue, pre-dating state capture, which came much later, with the arrival of the Guptas on the scene, aided and abetted by the former president and his lackeys; this investigation should have long since taken place.
The reports of the Auditor-General, as well as those of the Public Protector, year after year, have been disclosing the extent to which funds meant for service delivery were looted and abused, especially by local municipalities, most of whom saw them as honey pots from which to feed their lustful and gargantuan appetites, for material possessions, at the expense of service delivery.
An investigation would unearth how, in small local municipalities like Grahamstown (Makhanda, in Makana Municipality), a mayor would buy himself a 750 BMW top-of-the-range vehicle, which with his own salary he would not be able to afford.
But because he controls the public purse, he purchases such a vehicle, only to transport, over every weekend, friends and girlfriends to go to East London for a party, until Sunday night, spending taxpayers’ hard-earned money.
So do the municipal manager and members of the mayoral committee. Funds that could have built public toilets at the market go to waste in the hands of these public officials, who have built fiefdoms for themselves.
The president of Zambia recently spoke at a “Socio-Economic and Development Locally Conference”, where he related, among other things, that even before he was inaugurated, he was presented by officials with some papers to sign for $1.8m presidential cars, and he asked whether there were any used cars in the government garage, to which they replied there were, and without giving the matter any further thought, he declined to have any new cars bought, for himself and his cabinet ministers.
Would our leaders do such an exemplary thing? Or do they jump at the opportunity to loot the public purse in the belief that they are special and deserve all that they indulge themselves in, from the very top to the bottom, with little or no thought going into the abject and grinding poverty in which the masses of the people find themselves on a daily basis?
Whither to South Africa?
Traditional authorities should also not escape the net – because of their historical existence and recognition, under our Constitution, they must be supported and encouraged to continue to exist in the rural areas, principally to serve the needs of the people and not to lord it over them.
The developmental duties imposed by our Constitution under Section 153 (1) on municipalities must also be applicable to traditional authorities with equal force.
Traditional authorities must be obliged to have a governance system free from gender inequality, discrimination, oppression, misogyny, and patriarchy.
They must be encouraged to use economic resources such as land and mineral resources for developmental purposes.
Access to, control over, and ownership of land must be on an equal footing with men, and women must be protected from any form of gender inequality, discrimination or oppression, as regards land rights or all human rights for that matter.
It is thus proposed that the Office of the President should institute a Commission of Inquiry into the Affairs of Local Government, specifically into how corruption has been taking place, in local government, since 1994, and come up with practical recommendations, including a radical restructuring of local government and remove all the barriers and hindrances that have led the country to where it finds itself today. Anything short of this will be palliative and plastering over a festering wound until it is too late.
May we learn from the words of wisdom attributed to Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood, in “The World of Goods”: “The problem of getting people out of poverty is not how to get them enough to eat and drink; this is the condition for sustaining them in poverty”.
We have to interfere with existing structural arrangements, insofar as they are not helping us to achieve our goals of ensuring that large numbers of our people are extricated from the clutches and tight grip of unending poverty.
Naturally, there will be resistance to this entire exercise as there are vested interests who will rebel against the shaking of the nest, or upsetting the apple cart, forcing them to flee.
They have come to believe and accept that a calling to a public office is a certificate to personal aggrandisement and self-enrichment, anything that opposes this is to be resisted with all power they can muster.
Sadly, they have poor role models in their seniors, the men and women in their political parties, in Parliament and in the Cabinet and in the provincial governments, who themselves ape their colonial masters, and even outdo them in the display of crass materialism – “ house niggers“ who say when the master is sick – “we sick boss?“
It is just sickening to see so-called revolutionaries of yesteryear carrying themselves like this, even those who profess to be socialists.
We are going to have to look elsewhere for a new brand of leadership, going forward.
Vinoba Gandhian Bhave was a great freedom fighter and is famous for having initiated a campaign in India, the Bhoodan Movement (Land Gift Movement), to secure land for the poor, appealing to the land barons there to release some of the lands that they were not using for the benefit of the poor.
This is what he had to say, which is applicable to the issue under discussion, and teaches us to act with honesty and integrity, in everything we do:
“With God’s help, I can enter every heart. If I can be the agent of both the rich and the poor, I shall be glad. For the poor, I am striving to win rights. For the rich, I am striving to win moral development. If one grows materially and the other spiritually, who then is the loser? Besides, what island? How is it possible for anyone to consider himself the owner of it? Like air and water, the land belongs to God. To claim it for oneself is to oppose the very will of God. And who can be happy if they oppose his will?”
We need leadership now that is unbending in matters of morality, honesty, integrity, and compassion for the most vulnerable in our midst, and to rid ourselves of those who have seared and hardened their consciences, and closed their ears to the cries of the oppressed and the poor.
Our failure to act on this investigation and restructuring of our local government will cause us to stand before the Bench of History, one day without defence, to the charge of failure to act appropriately and timeously, and be found guilty as charged.
There is still time to turn things around.
Dr Wallace Mgoqi is chairperson of AYO Technology Solutions Ltd. He writes in his personal capacity.