By Luvuyo Sizani, DA Councillor and Caucus Leader in Makana Municipality
Minister of Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) Thembi Nkadimang, during her “keynote address” to Rhodes University (headlined in Grocott’s Mail on 13 August 2023, “Dysfunctional Makana municipality slammed by COGTA Minister”), deplored the state of Makana Municipality, lamented the fact that the budget is severely underspent, spewed anger at the continuous dysfunctionality, noted that for four years running the Municipality had received audit disclaimers, and announced that the solution was that “municipal councillors’ powers need to be reduced in order to achieve good governance, and there needed to be a clear line between political and administrative roles”.
All of her utterances beg the question: where has she been all these years?
Nothing that she said is new or not already in the realm of public discourse. As COGTA Minister, one would have thought that she would have greater knowledge of these facts than the average person. Was she unaware that there was a groundbreaking court case brought about by the state of the Municipality? After all, her department was the first respondent, and her department spearheaded the appeals process, which saw the court judgment rendered moot and impotent.
Her comments about municipal councillors’ powers having to be reduced are downright ludicrous. Firstly, it is important to note that our Constitution provides for three separate and independent spheres of government (local, provincial and national) and that the powers and functions of those spheres are defined in schedule 4 and 5 of the Constitution. As the Minister for COGTA, she is surely aware that the powers of individual councillors are, for all intents and purposes, severely limited. The only real power that a councillor has is the ability to ask questions and put forward motions. In the Makana Local Municipality that ability has been stripped away by the refusal of the municipal executive to have those questions and motions tabled and answered. Furthermore, the real issue is one of an incompetent municipal executive (the Mayor and the Mayoral Committee members) and an unaccountable and non-performing municipal administration (the municipal manager and the staff of the municipality).
What the minister does not acknowledge is the role her department has played in bringing Makana Municipality to this sorry state of affairs. She surely cannot be unaware that the ultimate approval in appointing the senior management and the executive lies with her department, and the majority party in the council meekly rubber stamps those decisions whether the individual members of that party like it or not. The real power in Makana Municipality, and for that matter all other ANC-governed municipalities), rests with those deployed cadres who ultimately have to answer to those who deployed them and not the local council.
It is clear that the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (in both national and provincial government) does not intervene in underperforming municipalities quickly enough, and when it does so, it is ineffectual, with the situation rapidly returning to the status quo of mismanagement and lack of service delivery as soon as the intervention ends. Makana Municipality is a perfect example of this, with previous interventions (under Pam Yako and Ted Pillay, for example) having been rendered useless within months of the intervention terminating.
There are several reasons why the vast majority of functional councils in South Africa are those governed by the Democratic Alliance. Not least of these is that the DA runs its governments transparently, and holds its public representatives accountable for their actions.
If COGTA Minister Thembi Nkadimang deplores the state of the Makana Municipality and wonders who brought it into this situation, we suggest that she has a long hard look in the mirror.