The historical factors that shaped local governance

By Neela Hoosain

In this edition of the Journalist, we provide some interesting contextual information about local government in South Africa, which can be used as briefing notes for journalists and researchers. Part 1 was carried in our mid-month edition. In Part 2, we examine the political and economic systems that have shaped local government during the colonial and apartheid periods.

An understanding of the history of local government is important to identify the causes of the weaknesses and obstacles to self-government and local development which is the key purpose of local government.

From the earliest colonial times to the pre-1995 period, legislative and social factors contributed to the challenges of setting up the structures and systems of developmental local government as envisaged.

Throughout the legislative history of South Africa, laws on their own did not achieve the desired outcomes. In the past, the exclusive, unequal and racially biased model of government was based on the desires of the minority in power. Enforcement mechanisms, such as the police, and other systems of control were underpinned by a shared commitment to achieve the desired outcome and retain white minority privileges. This was bolstered by moral support within the minority beneficiary communities because white bureaucrats were the key beneficiaries of privilege, especially during the apartheid era.

The early settlement in Cape Town, which was subject to British rule, comprised a population made up of 75% slaves. During the colonial time, in the Cape Colony all males who owned property to the value of 25 pounds were allowed to vote. In 1892, the Cape Prime Minister Cecil John Rhodes raised the property qualification to 75 pounds and added literacy as an additional qualification. The 1910 Constitution retained the qualified franchise for black men in the Cape Colony. However, after slavery was abolished, additional African labour and subsequent African urbanisation during the early 20th century was seen as a threat. Laws such as the 1913 Native Land Act prevented African people from buying land outside the reserves, except for those in the Cape. African women were subjected to even more obstacles to land ownership. African people were forced to reside in racially designated “locations” in accordance with the Urban Areas Act of 1923, with very few basic services being provided by government. Freedom of movement in urban areas was restricted and often violently enforced. From 1855 to 1960, racial discrimination was increased and the right to vote for Africans on a common voters’ roll was eventually removed. The “Boer” provinces and Natal did not extend the vote to Africans.

The property qualification for white voters was removed and the vote was extended to white women in 1930. In addition to African men being registered on a separate voters’ roll since 1854, the 1936 Representation of Natives Act stripped them of the right to stand for office. They were limited to vote for 4 whites to the Senate and denied any representation in the House of Assembly by 1960. Coloured men were eventually totally removed with the advent of the Coloured Representative Council in 1968. Indian men and all black women were never allowed to vote until the introduction of separate, racially exclusive structures in the 1970s and the discredited “tri-cameral parliament” in 1983.

The qualified right to vote for the provincial authorities was thus removed, together with the indirect right to have a say with regard to the provincial ordinances which set up and decided on the powers of local municipalities.

During the apartheid era, all laws, ranging from the Population Registration Act of 1950, the Group Areas Act (1950), Prevention of Illegal Squatters (1951), Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (1949) to the “petty apartheid” laws such as the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act (1953), were supported by administrative systems and enforcement mechanisms with personnel to carry out the functions. White citizens actively supported their local municipalities in executing these laws. Given the value-based nature of these laws, the officials were confronted by those communities who were either excluded or given unequal treatment. However, they enjoyed the support and protection from ordinary citizens who benefited from the unequal, racially based system.

In the absence of housing provided by government to all racial groups, based on need, “informal settlements” in all the major urban areas developed. This was largely due to the government’s policy to restrict African people to the homelands. In 1970, all African people were deprived of South African citizenship and “allocated” to a homeland, even if they had never lived in those areas. They were eventually “allowed to re-apply” for South African citizenship in 1985.

According to the government, in 1991, 1 891 520 people lived in such areas. This figure was estimated at 7 million according to the Urban Foundation and around one out of six according to some academics for the same period. The city of Durban recorded 1,3 million people living in informal settlements during the 1980s, estimated as one-third of the entire population of the city.

The survival and organisation of communities in the “informal settlements” generated a range of challenges to both the policies and structures in the past and continues to do so. Violence in the informal settlements, where the law and the local authorities had no status, gave rise to the unique power relations intrinsic to those areas. According to Dr Mike Morris, speaking at a Conference on violence in “squatter camps” in 1992, “tyranny was part of life in informal settlements” and whoever had control over resources, had power, such as the “shack lords” who collected “rents and levies”.

Apart from the failure to provide basic services and the prohibition on African people to own land, the reciprocal generation of revenue from rates, rentals and service charges which could have been brought about by the recognition and full integration of these communities into the local body politic had long-lasting consequences such as loss of potential revenue, unequal and skewed development. Instead, the obsession to control the movement of black people led to brutal forced removals and regular, literal bulldozing of many such areas. This phenomenon provided the clearest indication of the failure of government policies and systems to exercise authority through legitimacy and to meet the needs of the citizens. A variety of “models” were introduced to draw urban and rural African people into serving on local structures.

In the rural areas, the Black Authorities Act of 1951 set up advisory structures comprising regional, tribal and community representatives. In areas occupied by more than one tribe, in the absence of a tribal authority, the community authority comprised partly appointed and partly elected councillors. Tribal authorities who did not co-operate were simply deposed. The tribal authorities were responsible for the administration of tribal affairs, while the regional authorities advised the homeland governments on matters of general interest. Proclamation R293 of 1962 set up township councils in areas, such as Dimbaza in the Eastern Cape, with powers which were limited to township layout and the provision of accommodation, including revenue collection from housing rentals. These “R293 towns” were eventually passed on to the homelands.

Community Councils, with advisory powers, were introduced in 1977 in the urban areas to advise the “parent” white municipalities and later, the Bantu Administration and Development Boards. The Black Local Authorities Act of 1982 introduced “autonomy” to such local structures in response to the growing rejection and militant action by local communities. The widespread rent boycotts from 1984 led to the non-functioning of the local structures. The loss of revenue from rentals was estimated at around R300 million in 1987, in addition to losses due to high levels of corruption.

Following the definition of the principle of “own” and “general affairs” in terms of the Republic Of South Africa Constitution Act of 1983, the Promotion of Local Government Affairs Act of 1983 established Coloured and Indian Management Committees (MCs) to deal with local government in their racially-based areas as an “own affair”. These were essentially advisory bodies with very little decision-making powers. They had the autonomy to decide on “township development” and derived revenue from rentals, rates and service charges. The Regional Services Councils which were set up at the same time, with the responsibility for “general affairs”, such as the provision of bulk services such as water, electricity, sewerage, transport and planning, were controlled by provincial administrators and central government ministers. The MCs were excluded from decision-making on the allocation of revenue for infrastructure. The majority of Coloured and Indian citizens boycotted these structures and did not even register as voters. Election figures for the MCs are not readily available, but the national statistics reflect very low percentage polls. In 1989, the actual votes for both Coloured and Indian elections add up to 415 571 out of 1 102 716 registered voters.

Following the second state of emergency declared in 1986, decision-making was shifted to the Joint Management Centres, which reported to the National Security Management System set up by the State Security Council. This highly centralised system of control over local issues remained in place even during the CODESA negotiations. Representatives from the racially separate local structures were nominated by the State Security Council to serve on the Joint Management Centres, further reducing their legitimacy in the eyes of the majority.

What are the challenges facing local government in 2016 and are the parties contesting the 5th local government elections geared to address those challenges?

The new Constitution introduced developmental local government, which was a quantum leap from the historical system of more than 300 years. Despite the reality that the new model was based on the will and desire of the majority of the population, the system is severely tainted by the negotiated compromises, notably, with regard to the retention of personnel. The reality was that there was no alternative to replace the existing public service, even though many may have only had qualifications related to “native administration”.

Despite the racially-based employment of staff and lack of skills, all the staff from the dysfunctional and corrupt local structures of the past was absorbed into the post-apartheid administrations. Ironically, the same personnel who implemented an unequal system now hold senior positions due to their “unbroken service”. Many of those who retired, serve as “consultants” – regardless of the fact that they had no experience of implementing a democratic and developmental system of local government!

The achievement of the objectives of developmental local government has not received the necessary recognition to ensure that the empowering provisions of the laws bear fruit. A prime example is the provision in the law, for the establishment of Ward Committees. Ward Committees are defined as committees established by local communities through a public participation process, to represent their interests. The Ward Councillor chairs the Ward Committee. The following tasks of the Ward Committees are stipulated:

  • Prepare, implement and review the Integrated Development Plans (IDPs)
  • Establish, implement and review municipalities’ performance management systems
  • Monitor and review municipalities’ performance
  • Prepare municipalities’ budgets
  • Participate in decisions about the provision of municipal services
  • Communicate and disseminate information on governance matters.

The monitoring and evaluation of Ward Committees is excluded from statutory reporting. However, it is reasonable to guesstimate that the intended purpose has generally not been achieved.

The practice of some of the major municipalities is to employ consultants to draw up the IDPs, with no participation from the affected communities. In most of the municipalities, Ward Councillors themselves are kept in the dark by highly paid administrative personnel. Even in the more “sophisticated” areas, such as Ward 63 in Cape Town, the Ward Councillor is unable to provide basic information to residents in order to enable them to participate meaningfully in the tasks assigned to their representatives in the Ward Committees.

None of the parties contesting the elections have proposed solutions to improve public participation in a manner which leads to certainty in the levels of development and service delivery. A closer look at the performance of different parties in municipalities which they control, will reflect similar trends in these crucial areas, much like their consensus regarding remuneration of public representatives.

A further shameful example is the desire of citizens and the policy objective of government to eradicate bucket toilets. Funding for this national project was secured more than 10 years ago. Yet, this relatively simple target has not been achieved. Had it been achieved, it would have gone a long way towards restoring basic dignity for those who are still subject to this horrid “facility”.

Both the public representatives and paid officials in local government have failed to generate the critical mass necessary to make the quantum leap towards internalisation, promotion and defence of the new developmental ethos of local government, in spite of being provided with a vast amount of resources.

It is therefore important that “ordinary citizens” claim their rights as defined in the Constitution and devise initiatives to accelerate responsiveness, accountability and a service-based ethos in the structures and systems of local government. Neglect to do so will escalate protests, with no predictable results and perpetuate the prevailing culture of arrogant incompetence amongst the “embedded” passive and active resisters of development, posing as saviours of the “ignorant masses”.

More stories in Issue 72

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Contributors

Neela Hoosain

Neela Hoosain grew up in East London and was an activist in her school days, working within the student, youth, civic and trade union organisations. She was a representative in One City Talks in Port Elizabeth and a delegate to the Local Government Negotiating Forum. Neela Served as advisor in CODESA in the working group […]

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