ANC keen to fix municipal graft, but has little idea how to – Business Day, 6 October 2014

Although the ANC realises that dissatisfaction at local level may translate into electoral losses in 2016, it can’t fix local government as long as it sticks to its revolutionary and racial ideology. The chickens are coming home to roost.

UNLIKE British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was slow to wake up to the threat to the UK posed by the Scottish secessionist movement, the African National Congress (ANC) seems to have woken up in good time to possible losses in the municipal elections due in 2016.

Despite impressive figures on the provision of municipal services, the number of protests that turn violent has risen from an average of 2.2 a day in 2007 to 5.22 a day recently.

President Jacob Zuma accordingly held a local government conference in Midrand on September 18, at which he called for better provision of services, denounced corruption, and stressed the need for greater accountability.

There had to be a clearer separation between the roles of political principals and the administrative heads of municipalities, he said.

Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Pravin Gordhan said a third of municipalities were dysfunctional to the extent that they required intervention by national government. There was strife of some sort in a quarter of them.

Municipal bosses would get letters about people who had been "improperly employed" and would have to be "dealt with". The government would take a "tough view" of the lack of skills in municipalities, Gordhan said.

Given our restrictive labour law, it will be interesting to see how "improperly employed" people will be dealt with — or where the money will come from to pay out people.

Gordhan said councillors were widely viewed as a "corrupt lot" and there would be serious consequences for those involved in corruption. This sounds promising enough, but the question is whether it is to be taken seriously. Two years ago, when a number of ANC councillors in the Tlokwe municipality in North West tried to take action against corruption, they were hammered by party bosses, including Zuma and then ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa himself, now deputy president of SA as well, has been weighing in recently. "We need public servants who are not going to steal our money. We need public servants who aren’t corrupt. We want a public service that is going to be humble."

The obvious problem with all of this moral suasion is that it sounds hollow coming from leaders of a party using every trick in the book to protect Zuma from having to answer all the allegations against him.

But the other problem is how feckless all these politicians sound. They sit atop almost six dozen Cabinet and deputy ministers. Yet they are reduced to pleading and threatening in what seems to be a public display of their own powerlessness.

An interministerial committee is to be set up to ensure faster service delivery. Also, says Gordhan, the government will legislate to ensure that every one of the municipalities in the country provides a basic basket of services. But what if they don’t?

There is a great paradox here. The ANC is committed to a national democratic revolution of which one of the key components is to capture all centres of power. Another component is to use affirmative action to bring about demographic proportionality. In pursuit of these objectives, municipalities have been denuded of white skills, while the country’s education system is not producing enough replacements of any colour. The government does not wish to import skills either. So it’s not clear where Gordhan is going to get the well-skilled personnel he says municipalities need. Many of the best people are likely to be grabbed by the private sector to meet racial targets.

Although the ANC realises that dissatisfaction at local level may translate into electoral losses in 2016, it can’t fix local government as long as it sticks to its revolutionary and racial ideology. The chickens are coming home to roost.

• Kane-Berman is a consultant at the South African Institute of Race Relations.

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