As the local elections draw near, an increasing number of South African communities are coming forward with their grievances, which they want municipalities to address when they begin the new term.
Residents of Mamelodi township in Pretoria echoed many South Africans’ concerns on Sunday 17 April 2011 when they protested over the slow pace of delivery of essential services in their area.
“We have very poor drainage systems here, which causes flooding during heavy rains,” said Ntabiseng Motolo, a resident of Mamelodi.
Motolo said they are also unhappy about the state of their roads. “The roads are badly damaged with huge potholes, which spoil cars. Some areas still don’t have tar roads, making it difficult for taxis to come and pick us up here. When we vote this time, we are voting for change. We want to have such things fixed as soon as the new local leadership takes office.”
Councillors from ward five in Mamelodi, where the protests took place, have since met with the community and asked that they put all their grievances in writing so they could address them. “We have heard the concerns they have raised during the protest and are already working towards ensuring that work begins on the roads and drainage system,” said Richard Mokoena.
“We also want to know other grievances the community might have as we do not want to overlook anything and wait until the community feels angry and takes to the street.”
Mokoena said as part of their future strategy, they would have regular meetings with the community to give them progress reports on all matters raised. He said they would commit to give community members a platform to raise their concerns and needs.
“We want to ensure people know what we are doing as the council and we want to have closer interaction with the community so we can work together in resolving the problems of this area.”
South Africans go to the polls on 18 May 2011 to elect their new local government representatives. There are hopes that these officials will prioritise proper housing for the many still living in informal settlements, boost access to water and electricity, eradicate corruption within local government and help fight crime and unemployment.
“Gone are the days when our local council members could just promise us all sorts of great things to get our votes and then do nothing once they had them. Now they will have to earn our votes by listening to our grievances and delivering promptly on the agreed promises,” said Steven Mazibuko from Wesselton township near Ermelo, Mpumalanga province.
In February, the residents there protested against a lack of job creation and access to basic services. “Our vote is the most powerful tool we have to fight for change, we want to ensure that change does take place after the municipal elections,” said Xolile Mafukade from Wesselton.
Mafukade said they were concerned about corruption in their local government and wanted their voices heard before the elections. “We want the corruption to stop. We want to ensure that when we vote, we get the candidates we voted for and they deliver on what we’ve been fighting for.”
The community forwarded a written memorandum to the municipality with a list of their complaints. This drew in the ruling African National Congress (ANC), which sent in a high-powered delegation to visit the area and facilitate a dialogue with local councillors and community members to find amicable solutions to the disputes.
The delegation comprised Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Sicelo Shiceka, Public Protector Advocate Thulisile Madonsela, Mpumalanga MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Norman Mokoena and the province’s MEC for Community Safety, Security and Liaison Sibongile Manana.
"This is a government chosen by the people and it has an open-door policy. At all times it is willing to engage in dialogue with our people to ensure that we solve all problems," said Shiceka.
After the meetings, the delegates reported back to the residents. They conceded that even though significant progress had been made in dealing with the community’s issues, there were still some challenges facing the local municipality.
It was agreed that there is a need to set up a task team to look at what additional challenges face the community and to continuously monitor the progress made in dealing with the issues.
In March the residents of the Meqheleng township in Ficksburg, Free State province, marched to the municipal offices there to hand over a memorandum of demands regarding service delivery. Among the issues raised, residents voiced their dissatisfaction over inadequate water supply, sewerage drain repair and waste removal. The disgruntled community set deadlines for the municipality to redeem itself, but this was not done on time. On 13 April locals held another protest demanding answers.
“We will no longer be ignored by our government, we live in a democratic state where we are allowed to raise our grievances,” said John Mazibuko. “According to our constitution, water and shelter are basic needs that should be available to us all. When we go to vote next month, we want the government to know exactly what we are voting for, we are voting for change and service delivery.”
Nduduzo Nyawuza from Ntuzuma in KwaZulu-Natal said local governments are currently in the spotlight and under a lot of pressure to deliver. “Since the end of apartheid in 1994 the government has done a lot to improve the lives of many communities. However, there are still those who have not seen the promises of a better life come to them and they get impatient when they see others benefiting.”
Nyawuza said he believes it is good for democracy that more communities are raising their concerns. “People clearly understand their local politics more and know not to sit and accept bad or no service. They are using their voices to demand change, and their votes to appoint members they trust to bring in that change. Our government needs to listen to the people who put them in power, they need to be accountable, and they need to deliver on their promises.”
The ANC has said it’s concerned about the number of protests that have taken place around the country and wants to ensure that all issues are addressed. “We are very concerned with the issues raised around service delivery and we commit ourselves to leave no stone unturned to address such grievances,” said party spokesperson Jackson Mthembu.
He added they would schedule meetings with executive mayors and mayors accompanied by their municipal managers to discuss the state of local government and service delivery improvement in the local government sphere.
"We want them to know that the people come first in everything we do, and we want excellence.”