Putting people first is a key task

Sunday, October 31, 2021

By: Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma

Tomorrow our young democracy reaches another milestone, one that will usher in our country’s fifth term of local governance. Incidentally, this was the same date South Africa held its first local government elections for the interim local governments in 1995. We cast our votes in honour of our compatriots who fought to secure equal rights, including the right to vote. Some of them paid the ultimate price.

Therefore, we do not take this moment for granted because we know that freedom was not free, and with it comes the responsibility of being a member of this great republic of ours. Such is the responsibility on the shoulders of every South African, young and old, male or female, no matter the creed, colour ethnic background, class or race.

We condemn any form of intimidation and acts of violence from enemies of democracy in the build-up to the polls, however, the revolutionary spirit of South Africans shall prevail.

Contestation is healthy in any democracy, and it becomes more robust as more parties enter the election race. We have grown in our diversity and views, such that we have moved from a handful of registered political parties to an election with 325 contesting parties and more than 900 independent candidates.

The tolerance and good track record, as well as institutions of good governance such as the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), have maintained South Africa as a good example on how to conduct elections.

We must maintain this tolerance no matter the individual or party that wins in our wards, locality, district or city. It is only our collective actions and common path, which we must carry with a sense of pride, that will get us back on the track of the whispered dreams that our ancestors aspired for.

Indeed, we fought for the voices of our people to be heard, no matter how small and no matter in which ward. No one can dispute that we are living up to the motto of our coat of arms --- !ke e: /xarra //ke (diverse people unite) that we can be united and still embrace our diversity.

No doubt, local government is a critical sphere that plays a central role in our developmental agenda.

People interface with this sphere daily; they rely on a functional local government for basic services and their developmental needs. Thus, we are pleased to see the vigour and selection processes employed by most parties when it comes to local public representatives.

This is a great foundation to ensure that, in time, the best among our parties serve in this important sphere of governance.

The elections come at a time when our nation and the world is in battle with Covid-19. This implies added pressure on resources and the increased demand for services, in the context of constrained domestic and global financial resources.

No doubt, the Covid-19 pandemic had a negative impact on revenue sources to varying degrees and affected citizens’ livelihoods. This, in turn, has undermined the ability of depleted municipality cash flows to collect revenue or improve their balance sheet.

However, it also offers us an opportunity to seek a more just and equal society, for we can now redefine our local and national developmental path. As we do so, we must fetch the last in line and uplift her first, as we reach our goal of ensuring that no one is left behind.

Fortunately, this next term of local governance comes at a time when we have strengthened our public policies and programmes for local government through policy instruments like the Municipal Structures Amendment Act (No.3 of 2021) which will come into effect tomorrow. The Act, for the first time, brings into being an enforceable revised Code of Conduct for Councillors, meaning that accountability is being placed back in the hands of the people.

The Act is a game-changer, with consequences for those who do not uphold integrity and adhere to it. To drive this, the governing party and others have included this element as part of the anticipated performance agreements and pledges of local representatives. To strengthen this and other elements of the Structures Act we will, with vigour, consider the refinements we should undertake in the Systems Act in order to cement the separation of functions between the political and administrative leadership.

We urge the incoming office bearers to remember that they serve at the behest of the people. Thus, their orientation ought to be one that puts people first. Remember that taking public office is one of the most important civic duties anyone can perform. Therefore, the resources our people have entrusted to office bearers carry with them their hopes, dreams and aspirations. To squander or steal the resources is to stall those hopes, dreams and aspirations.

As we implement the District Development Model, we too in the other spheres pledge to work with the new councillors and administrations, no matter the political party or persuasion, not in an interventionist but a more developmental manner as called upon by section 154 of our Constitution. That section calls on “the national government and provincial governments (to) support and strengthen the capacity of municipalities to manage their own affairs”.

For our part as the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, we will continue to support and capacitate municipalities and further ensure that public representatives in this sphere are empowered with the necessary skills and support to lead our communities to a better life for all.

As we go out to vote tomorrow, we do so with the assurance from the IEC of its readiness to deliver the fifth democratic local government elections.

The 2021 local government elections will be conducted under a new normal imposed by the perilous Covid-19 pandemic. It is for this reason that we must continue to be vigilant and cautious by adhering to pharmaceutical protocols of vaccination and none-pharmaceutical practices, including wearing a mask, keeping physical distancing and maintaining hygiene observes in our polling stations to ensure safer elections.

As we vote tomorrow, we effectively determine the development trajectory of our country. Your X remains your patriotic voice in enhancing democratic public participation.

* Dr Dlamini Zuma is Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.