Two years ago residents went to the polls. Now on Wednesday August 3, they will go again. But why? Why are there two elections, two years apart? Why is there not just one election that covers the national, provincial and local government?
Courtney Sampson of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) answers: “The idea in 1994 was to have an election covering all spheres of government but the interim constitution did not include the local government election, so it was held the following year instead.”
In the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal it took place two years later, Mr Sampson said. Then, the whole country took part in the second local government election on December 5, 2000, to keep the five-year cycle intact.
So does this mean that this election is less important?
“Not at all,” Mr Sampson said. “Local government drives service delivery.”
Dr Zwelinzima Ndevu echoes this sentiment. “Local government is the sphere of government closest to the people, which is at the coalface of service delivery,” Dr Ndevu, of the school of public leadership at Stellenbosch University, said.
“The public should take centre stage in driving all initiatives at municipal level.”
How is this done? Through active public participation and regular engagement, Dr Ndevu said.
“In order to address this fundamental imperative, government established structures such as street forums and ward committees. In terms of the law, the above-mentioned structures should meet on a regular basis while municipal council and any entity established within the jurisdiction should organise a minimum of four meetings in a financial year.”
How is democracy threatened if public participation is railroaded?
“In a case where these structures are non-existent or dysfunctional, the views of ordinary members of the public wouldn’t be heard or taken into consideration when deciding on municipal council programmes and priorities. Another challenge is council representatives who represent their own political interests and put the interest of the public second,” Dr Ndevu said.
What are the signs of a failed public participation process?
“A number of municipal service delivery protests within the Cape Flats have been about a lack of or inadequate service delivery provision within their communities especially provision of basic services. The priorities of the City of Cape Town in the last term have been under constant spotlight, especially the development of bicycle lanes in more developed areas and lack of basic services in informal settlements,” Dr Ndevu said.
What recourse do residents have if they feel their elected ward councillor is not representing their interests?
“In a democratic set-up like ours, the people should invite their elected ward councillor to report back on the development in municipal council on a regular basis. (Some) ward councillors are not actively involved in their community initiatives and in some instances they have actively participated in processes to divide the community for their own benefits. The recourse that a community has is to organise themselves and, as a unit, vote to recall the ward councillor which will lead to the IEC organising a by-election.
“What is currently happening is that people protest and destroy infrastructure, including schools. A councillor’s house in the Mfuleni/Blue Downs area was burned down because the community were not happy with his performance. This attitude to dealing with our differences should be discouraged.”