Remarks by President Jacob Zuma to the SALGA special national conference, Gallagher Convention Centre, Midrand
10 Sep 2012
The Chairperson of SALGA,
Councillor Thabo Manyoni,
Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Mninawa Mahlangu,
The Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Mr Richard Baloyi,
Premier of Gauteng, Ms Nomvula Mokonyane,
Executive Mayor of the City of Johannesburg, Councillor Parks Tau,
The Auditor General, Mr Terrence Nombembe,
Local Government Leadership,
Delegates from various Municipalities,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning to you all.
Thank you for inviting me to share a few thoughts with the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) at this important special national conference.
As the voice of organised local government, SALGA has a vital role to play in strengthening municipalities and mobilising resources to support municipalities.
Local government is an important sphere of government because it is the closest to the people. Most people judge the performance of government by their experience of local government.
We are happy therefore, that you are meeting here this week to discuss measures that will improve the functionality of SALGA.
In 1994, the democratic government began to de-racialise and transform all aspects of governance, including local government. Looking back now, it has been an eventful 18 years.
Initially, we were impatient and wanted to reverse three centuries of underdevelopment and racist spatial planning in just a few years. It has proven to be almost impossible to do so.
However, we have made substantial progress in improving service delivery and extending services to our people, especially the poor who were marginalised in the past.
The reality of apartheid is that large parts of the country had never had any form of local government.
As a result, the backlogs are still glaring. Municipalities in formerly whites only areas have relatively well-developed services and infrastructure to this day, alongside under-developed townships and rural areas which were deliberately deprived of resources.
In addition, the post-apartheid demarcation process left many municipalities without access to the required administrative, financial and technical capacity to function efficiently and effectively. This has hampered the delivery of services.
The three spheres of government, especially local government, have to work harder to improve the living conditions in provinces which historically had Bantustans.
These are the Eastern Cape, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, North West, Free State and Mpumalanga. These provinces face serious delivery backlogs.
Our vision is to create dignified human settlements for those who lived in dehumanising conditions before. These should be communities where residents have water, electricity, sanitation and roads as well as recreational facilities. It must be communities filled with the laughter of happy children.
We are far from reaching our goal of the universal delivery of such services, but we have certainly made progress. While some of the citizens are frustrated because they are still waiting for water or electricity, they would find that many more have received these services.
Ultimately all citizens must obtain the basic services that they are entitled to. No matter how long it takes us, we will get the work done as the three spheres of government.
While acknowledging challenges in local government, we must not lose track of these achievements. We must build on them.
We have achieved a lot already in only 18 years which is an indication of further progress to be made. This fact gets lost unfortunately in the hurly-burly of competitive politics.
Together as South Africans we put an end to apartheid, achieved peace and stability, made the lives of millions of our people better and established a firm foundation for even faster progress.
The delivery of basic services began in earnest in 1994 and is continuing.
Over two and half million houses have been built for the poor giving shelter to over ten million people. Six million households have gained access to clean water since 1994 and electricity has been connected to nearly five million homes.
Municipalities have gone a long way towards eradicating the bucket toilet system in formal settlements.
Today the majority of our people are provided free basic services in water and electricity.
Many communities will attest to the fact that we have constructed more community-tarred roads, provided streetlights, sporting and recreational facilities over the years.
Residents of rural villages who never dreamt of electricity in the past 20 years now easily switch on lights to cook and life is suddenly so much better for them. We have to acknowledge such achievements.
In addition, we are investing more than R800 billion in a major infrastructure programme to build roads, dams, power stations, railway lines and renovate hospitals and build schools.
The Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission, established last year, is proving to be very effective in coordinating infrastructure development across the three spheres.
However, our monitoring has revealed insufficient attention to the maintenance and refurbishment of existing and new infrastructure over the years.
As we build new infrastructure, municipalities should also pay attention to the maintenance of existing infrastructure to prevent the water and electricity stoppages and other interruptions which inconvenience and frustrate residents.
While acknowledging progress, we also know that many municipalities, especially in the rural areas, are still struggling and are lacking capacity as well as resources to fulfil their functions.
We need to work together to find a solution for such municipalities.
Before 2009, government introduced Project Consolidate – a programme through which national government sent in support management teams to assist struggling municipalities.
This programme made a difference in many areas.
But it has not been enough. We still have to do more. As I have said, there is a massive backlog from the past to deal with.
We launched the Local Government Turnaround Strategy in December 2009 to provide further support and strengthen local government.
The administration also introduced performance agreements for Ministers and MECs in local government to ensure that we harmonies targets and monitoring.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Poor financial management in local government has also come into the spotlight, following the recent report by the Auditor-General (AG).
While the report was cause for concern, we also welcome the fact that six new municipalities have joined the ranks of municipalities with clean audits this year, bringing the total to 13 municipalities.
These municipalities are in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.
In responding to the AG’s report, we need to prioritise training and finding suitably qualified personnel, for example chief financial officers.
Ladies and gentlemen, we also wish to emphasise that there is a need to improve relations and cooperation between the spheres of government.
This requires municipalities to align their plans and budgets with those of provinces and national government.
We are aware that municipalities are often called to account for the provision of services that are actually the responsibility of other spheres.
In other instances, local councils are unable to proceed with delivery because of inaction by State Owned Enterprises and provincial and national departments, on whom they often rely for provision of bulk services and infrastructure.
Added to this difficulty is the failure of some spheres of government to pay municipalities for services rendered, especially for water and electricity.
It is unacceptable for provincial and national government to deprive local government of much-needed revenue in this manner.
As national government we are treating this as a priority through the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. National and provincial departments must lead by example and pay their bills.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We also need to improve communication with the public at a local level. Our view is that some of the problems at a community level arise from poor communication and liaison with residents.
Where government had said a particular service would be provided, leaders or officials need to return to the people to explain that there would be delays in case of any, and how long the delays would take.
Having said that, we also appeal to our communities to exercise restraint and use peaceful means of bringing their frustrations to the attention of authorities. Freedom of expression is a Constitutional right, but it should be exercised responsibly.
We are a caring government, which should be accessible and responsive to the needs of the public.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As said earlier, we are working hard to reverse the humiliation and dehumanisation that the majority suffered in the past.
For this reason, we reiterate that it is unacceptable to provide services to our people that are demeaning to them.
Open toilets, bucket toilets and building houses which have toilets outside only, have no place in a caring democracy which is premised on the promotion of human rights.
To avoid the recurrence of such challenges, working together we must ensure that all spheres of government adhere to set minimum standards of decency and basic human rights in the provision of services.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have to continue changing the face of local government, and changing our communities for the better.
We have a responsibility to reverse the painful experiences of the past, and build communities that people can be proud to call home.
We know that it is impossible to correct all the distortions and social engineering of the colonial period overnight or in only 18 years. But, we are determined to move as fast as possible, working with our people.
It is important for us not to forget where we come from. In that way, every day, we will ensure that we build the opposite of what the racist regimes of the past wanted for our people. Working together, we will indeed change the face of local government.
I wish you a fruitful conference and look forward to an outcome that will take local government to greater heights.
I thank you.
Issued by: The Presidency
10 Sep 2012
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