South Africans voted in the local government elections on the 18th May 2011. Many people say that this local government election was a milestone in our democracy. 57% of the electorate (those who have the right to vote) came out to participate in the elections. This is more people than those who voted in the previous local government elections. At a national level, the Africa National Congress (ANC) won the elections with 62% of the national vote. Despite all the pre-election tensions and mobilisations to demand services the vast majority of the rural and urban poor voted for the ANC. Even in communities where people were very angry with the ANC such as in Fichsburg, Balfour and Ermelo, the ANC was elected, though the turn out accounting to the election monitors was quite low.
However, this victory has many important lessons for the ANC and for us in civil society. The Western Cape was the only province where the Democratic Alliance (DA) won the province. In many municipalities (see map) smaller parties, independent candidates and the ANC also won “wards.” This implies that in many municipalities there will be alliances and many municipalities will be quite unstable.
Now that elections are over, our task as civil society, as leaders of movements and community activists is to organise ourselves to participate actively and in a conscious way in putting our agenda on the municipal agenda. Changing councillors are not enough. We must question the way in which local government is resourced, the policies that guide govern service delivery and infra-structure development. We have to demand and fight for the RIGHT to RECALL. Where councillors are corrupt, not responsive and unaccountable to the community and the constituency that puts them in power - they should be recalled. Our task is fight to have local municipalities and municipal officials accountable to the local constituency.
We also know that many rural municipalities as well as big municipalities spent over 40% of their already-stretched budgets on salaries. This should change - we need to engage over the budget. We have to campaign to reduce the salaries of councillors and the municipal officials. This will make the “job” less attractive to those whose only interest is accessing the state for resources.
We have to support the latest legislation which says NO to political deployment for municipal management posts. We know that our municipalities lack human resource capacity. It is for this reason that we think it is important that we establish local monitoring groups that watch and report quarterly on progress and delivery of services. This includes even the most basic, for example: Are our communities clean? Is the refuse collected? Does the councillor have local meetings? Who is on our ward committee?
For those of us who live in the rural areas, we have to organise meetings with the new council and ask what their plans are for land reform, rural local economic development - especially land based development. We should also demand that the municipal commonage be made available for small farmers - we also should demand that the municipality acquire additional land for commonage.