The issues of sanitation, housing and road infrastructure still remain unresolved in the municipality, says the writer. Picture: Leon Lestrade. African News Agency (ANA) Archives
The issues of sanitation, housing and road infrastructure still remain unresolved in the municipality, says the writer. Picture: Leon Lestrade. African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Service delivery and the battle for the control of Buffalo City metropolitan municipality

By Opinion Time of article published Oct 20, 2021

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By Bheki Mngomezulu

As the date for the 2021 local government elections [LGE] looms large, the battle for the control of South African metropolitan municipalities has begun in earnest. One of these metros is Buffalo City Municipality.

Like many other municipalities across the country, Buffalo City Metro has had its fair share of challenges. The mandate given to this municipality includes, but is not limited to, economic development, job creation, social development and ensuring that the community participates in all its activities.

However, the reality is that many services are still lagging behind. For example, water and electricity supply remain a challenge to many communities. The issues of sanitation, housing and road infrastructure still remain unresolved. As concerns around these service delivery areas mount, conflict becomes inevitable.

Some of the challenges that have made it difficult for the municipality to deliver on its Constitutional mandate include the following: corrupt activities by elected municipal officials, lack of institutional capacity to initiate municipal development projects, inability to budget properly, failure to address maintenance backlogs, ward committees that are weak or incompetent, poor intergovernmental relations (IGR) systems, a weak Integrated Development Plan (IDP), lack of or total absence of explicit criteria to be used in evaluating service delivery within the metro, and blatant looting of municipal resources that leaves municipal coffers empty.

Above all, there is evident lack of political will to do the right thing in order to keep the prestige of this municipality, which has great potential to excel. In a nutshell, the metro is struggling to deliver on its Constitutional mandate. Sadly, the people who are the victims of everything that happens (or does not happen) within the metro are the voters.

Reports after reports enumerate some (if not all) of the challenges listed above and even make recommendations on what needs to be done to improve the current situation. Sadly, no clear action is being taken to address them. This is evident from the intermittent service delivery protests.

One thing that is interesting to note is that while these service deliver challenges continue unabated, politicians invest their time and effort in the blame-game. This is already evident now that political parties have started their campaigns for the upcoming 2021 LGE.

In 2016, nine political parties managed to get seats in this metro, with the ANC receiving 60 of the 100 seats. As such, the ANC was tasked to lead the municipality, while the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) came second and third, respectively. The other political parties like the African Independent Congress (AIC) also obtained enough seats (eight) to be able to participate in this metro. Four other political parties obtained one seat each.

While this synopsis paints the picture that the ANC is to blame for the challenges enumerated above, the reality is that all political parties that have been or are part of the municipal council are to blame for this state of affairs. When a party is the main opposition, it is part of the administration. One of its key responsibilities is to keep the governing party in check and then mobilise other parties to ensure that the governing party does not monopolise power.

Where skills are scarce among political party members, it is the responsibility of the municipal council, not the governing party alone to source these from outside party activists.

When the municipality functions well, everyone rejoices – including opposition political parties. Similarly, when the municipality collapses, it is fair for all political parties to accept the blame as a collective.

But this does not mean that the governing party should hide behind “collective responsibility” when things go wrong and suddenly brag and take individual honours when the municipality functions well.

What the electorate should guard against as different political parties and independent candidates market themselves for the upcoming LGE, are politicians who ride on the failures of their counterparts as opposed to telling voters how they plan to address the current challenges.

For those political parties that have been part of the municipal council since 2016, they should first be honest to tell the electorate why these problems happened while they were in office. Furthermore, they must also commit to work with the electorate to address these challenges.

More importantly, the out-going leaders should account to the electorate on the municipal finances so that those who will assume power do not complain that they found the municipal coffers empty. We have heard this excuse on many occasions, we cannot be listening to that again. But we can only avoid this if the out-going administration is transparent before and not after the elections.

Service delivery will be the site of the struggle for Buffalo City metropolitan municipality.

*Mngomezulu is a professor of Political Science and Deputy Dean of Research at the University of the Western Cape.

**The views expressed here may not be that of IOL.

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