14 February 2024


Speaker of the National Assembly, Honourable Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula;
The Chairperson of the NCOP, Honourable Amos Masondo;
Your Excellency; President Cyril Ramaphosa;
His Excellency; Deputy President Paul Mashatile;
Honourable Premiers of our 9 Provinces;
Honourable Members;
Fellow South Africans;
Madame Speaker,

As we approach 30 years of Democracy, allow me to start by reminding this august house that the South African local government system, has its history and roots deeply embedded in our country’s colonial past. With several scholars describing the historical role of local government, many argue that the pre-1994 local government system perpetuated racial segregation, poverty and inequity in the distribution of essential services. This history left bold imprints of social injustice, spatial injustice, racial bias and poor access to essential services for the majority of the population.

Madame Speaker,

Scholars are also in agreement that the country’s local government system has emerged from subservient and illegitimate institutions to a more democratic local government system, with the Constitution of the Republic introducing a

complete transformation of the local government system. Local government is now a sphere of government in its own right and no longer a function nor an implementing arm of national or provincial government.

Madame Speaker,

Whereas local government, has undergone rapid transition and transformation over the last 30 years, there can be no doubt that it has had a profound impact on the lives of ordinary South Africans in expanding the provision of services to our people.

The recently released outcomes of the 2022 Census attests to this reality, by confirming that the following key gains in delivery of basic services have been made:-

  • Access to electricity for lighting went from 58,1% in 1996 to 94,7% in 2022;
  • 82.4% of households in the country has access to piped water either inside their dwelling or inside their yard;
  • 98.4% households have sanitation, with 70.8% having access to flush toilets; and
  • two-thirds (66,3%) of households in the country had their refuse removed by a local authority once a week.

While it is true that a number of serious and complex challenges persist in some municipalities, by and large there are extensive examples, as confirmed by CENSUS 2022, that local government has delivered quality services and a better life for the majority of our people.

Madame Speaker,

The Census 2022, further confirms that the South African population grew to 62 million in 2022, translating to 17,8 million households, an increase of 7,2 million additional households that must be serviced by local government. In addition hereto the CENSUS 2022 further confirms that 50% of our population live in the 17 largest municipalities.

Madame Speaker,

If we analyse these statistics, it begins to suggest that a large part of our population reside in Cities. Cities which continue to face growing environmental, societal, and economic challenges with growing levels of demand for municipal basic services. It therefore means that in the absence of an acknowledgement of the importance of local government, we face the increased risk of not creating sustainable human settlements, which provide for a decent quality of life and meet the social, economic and material needs of communities in a holistic way.

We must therefore, looking into the future, define an appropriate response to the picture painted by Census 2022.

Madame Speaker,

Despite its most pivotal role in building democracy and promoting socio-economic development, with the responsibility for 46% of the constitutional functions, local government still remains the step child. Recent disturbing developments in the water and electricity distribution space has witnessed national and provincial governments increasingly encroaching into the powers and functions of local government. We are concerned that instead of working collaboratively in the spirit of cooperative governance and providing the necessary ongoing support as defined in Section 154 of the Constitution, national and provincial governments have elected to encroach into the powers and functions of local government.

Madame Speaker,

Our own assessment as SALGA, is that local government is a complex sphere of government, it requires a proper diagnosis, to develop a response that is appropriate. An appropriate response requires a distinction between the occurrences, patterns and trends versus the systemic and structural issues. Having regard to the national interventions alluded to earlier, we tend to react and respond to the occurrences and not the underlying causes.

It is our respectful view, as SALGA, that in dealing with the state of local government and the challenges attendant to, consideration has to be given to a number of interventions as a package instead of wanting to deal with them in isolation. Madame Speaker,

As stated in a previous SONA we fully supported the President’s view on the appointment of properly qualified municipal officials to ensure the effective management and provision of services. We, however, added that similar focus should be placed on the political arm in a municipality, the councillors.

Our analysis confirms that every five years, the high turn-around in local government, exacerbated by lack of proper screening of candidates, sets the sector back in terms of leadership, governance and oversight stability. Despite numerous interventions to increase the capacity of Councillors, during a term of office, the task is daunting and the gaps are blatant as recent developments particularly in coalitions have exposed serious weaknesses in the leadership qualities of many councillors.

We once more repeat our plea and call to all political parties to prioritise deployment of skilled and knowledgeable councillors. A

more radical proposal is that, as we march towards the next elections, there should be a set of minimum criteria, coupled with the introduction of a performance management and accountability based remuneration regime for both councillors and Senior Managers.

Madame Speaker,

You may recall that we stood here a year ago to draw attention to the Impact of Coalition governments on Service Delivery and Municipal Governance. We wish to extend our appreciation to the President for responding positively to our call for a national dialogue on coalition governments. We are hopeful that following the National Dialogue held in August last year, will bring us closer towards a framework for coalition governments that can be used as a guide by political parties in structuring their coalitions in practice. Without a framework to guide political parties in structuring and managing coalitions, political parties and independent councillors will be required to establish coalitions whilst being uncertain about the rules or mechanisms needed to maximise the incentives for cooperation in the coalition government.

Madame Speaker, as it relates to “Municipal Financial Sustainability”, the President rightfully recognizes some of the challenges that weaken local government institutions. This view

must be seen in the context that the financial resources available to municipalities have fallen short of the increasing demands on municipalities for services, including non-revenue services, and infrastructure delivery needs.

“Safety of Councillors and Municipal Officials”

Madame Speaker,

As stated in the last SONA debate, as SALGA we remain concerned about the growing number of intimidation and killing of councillors and municipal officials, and damage to municipal property during service delivery protests. In recent times this has also been extended to traditional leaders.

Coupled with recent shootings and killings, there are broader questions to be asked. “What has gone wrong with the moral fibre of our society? Is the cause of these types of death love of money or greed? Are we not making enough noise to be heard when we say that enough is enough? For how long are we going to keep quiet while councillors, municipal officials and our people generally are killed on a daily basis?”

This is a worrying development in the context that the occurrence is country wide, although with different intensities. These developments threatens the credibility of our democracy but

more so negatively impacts the credibility of local government as a potential area of opportunity for qualified and competent public representatives and prospective employees.

Madame Speaker

Further to this we continue to witness, what I see as alienation of our communities from their own assets. The looting and vandalism of infrastructure is evidence of this alienation. Indeed, we can’t blame the whole community for this. However, when communities do not rise against these and the perpetrators, such actions gain traction.

There is a saying that “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” The essence of the quote can be traced back to the utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill, who delivered a 1867 inaugural address at the University of St. Andrews and stated: “Let not anyone pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. He is not a good man who, without a protest, allows wrong to be committed in his name, and with the means which he helps to supply, because he will not trouble himself to use his mind on the subject”.

This leads me to the role of moral regeneration in our communities. We must discuss how the leaders across government can take moral regeneration to our communities. Of course, moral regeneration will be one part of the response. The other part it is what we are doing to mobilise the whole of government to respond to this scourge.

In terms of the Constitution, one of the objects of our exitance, as a sphere of government, is to encourage the involvement of communities and community organisations in the matters of local government. We have done fairly well in reflecting the two legs of a municipality in our structures and functioning i.e. the Council and the Administration. But we have not yet developed an intentional and structured relationship with communities and community organisations. We need to figure out how can we bridge this gap.

Madame Speaker,

As I conclude, as some have said before me, the journey of local government in South Africa has been an imperfect transition. We need to stay the course on policy choices made and see to their effective execution.

I thank you.