South Africa: Mismanagement rocks cities and towns

International News Desk

Recently Makhanda High Court granted an application by the Unemployed People’s Movement that the Makana Local Municipality be dissolved.

A high court in South Africa has passed a landmark ruling with far-reaching implications for municipalities that fail to carry out their constitutional duty to citizens.

This follows an application by the Unemployed People’s Movement that the Makana Local Municipality be dissolved.

The court ordered that the Eastern Cape provincial government, under which the municipality falls, appoint an administrator to run its affairs. It will be the second time this has happened.

In 2014 the city was placed under administration for three months. This was because it was financially vulnerable, wasn’t maintaining infrastructure and service delivery had crumbled.

At one point residents went without water for nine days.
That intervention failed to fix the problems.
Last year citizens turned to the judiciary, signalling that they were no longer willing to give government a chance to fix the problem.

They are hoping that the judiciary can help solve the crisis of governance.

South Africa’s Constitution stipulates that local government must ensure the provision of services to communities in a sustainable way, promote a safe and healthy environment and encourage the involvement of communities and community organisations.

Municipalities are the third tier of government after provinces and the national government. This tier is also the closest level to ordinary citizens, and as such, forms the basis of the relationship between government and citizens.

Judge Igna Stretch said in her judgment that the conduct of the Makana municipality had been
inconsistent with the 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa … [by] failing to promote a healthy and sustainable environment for the community.

The ruling is a victory for activists who have been embroiled in a long-running battle against the dysfunctional and incompetent municipal council run by the African National Congress (ANC).

The party governs the country and most municipalities.

This is the first time in South Africa’s democratic history that citizens have been able to argue successfully in court that local government is not living up to its constitutional obligations.

The ruling effectively opens the door for others to challenge poor service delivery due to incompetent and dysfunctional governance.

The precedent-setting ruling is set to cause jitters in municipalities around the country. It might see more municipalities being challenged in court. It signals that when internal structures of accountability are dysfunctional the courts can provide recourse for citizens.

It could have broader implications too. South Africans will elect new local councils next year. The court’s ruling fundamentally undermines the ANC’s electoral claim that it’s creating a “better life”. It signals that the party effectively failed at fulfilling the constitutional mandate given to it by the electorate.

Tendai Guvamombe