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Local is Lekker (complicated)

community engagement
Community engagement - Mpumalanga Province, South Africa

The notion of working in hyperlocal service delivery ecosystems is easily reduced to the theoretical and developmental frameworks espoused in seminars and publications on the matter. In reality, the lead time to effect change within these environments is significant rendering frivolous (and transparent) social investment moot.

Understanding (and respecting) the structures both formal and otherwise is a key point of departure in forming part of development conversations at pavement level.

As a point of departure, we will map the formal structures and guiding frameworks to be considered when exploring the developmental leaning of the community structures.

We will touch on:

- Why organisations should understand local government

- Important considerations re developmental local government

- Determining if a local structure is developmental

- What local municipalities can do to ensure that they are developmental

Local government is the sphere of government closest to the people. Many basic services are delivered by local municipalities and local ward councillors are the politicians closest to communities. They also play a key role in the informal influence structures in communities. Organisations that play an activist and/or developmental role should understand how local government works and how to influence it.

The South African government has clear policies that local municipalities and councillors should be sensitive to community views and responsive to local problems. Partnerships should be built between civil society and local government to address local issues. A number of laws outline participation processes that municipalities have to use to consult the community.

Principles of public participation: 

  • Promotes active and representative participation towards enabling all community members to meaningfully influence the decisions that affect their lives

  • Engages community members in learning and understanding community issues, and the economic, social, environmental, political, psychological, and other associated courses of action

  • Incorporates the diverse interests and cultures of the community in the development process, and disengages from support of any effort that is likely to adversely affect the disadvantaged members of a community

  • Actively enhances the leadership capacity of community members, leaders and groups within the community

  • Utilises a community’s diversity to deepen shared understanding and produce outcomes of long-term benefit to the whole community or society.

Structures and strategic planning instruments associated with public participation processes includes:

  • Ward committees

  • Integrated development planning

  • Municipal budgets and finance

Some history - The local government election held on 5 December 2000 were the first fully democratic local elections in South Africa. New municipal boundaries were drawn that included every part of the country and broke the old apartheid divisions.

The White Paper on local government states that local government must play a "developmental role". The Constitution states that government must take reasonable steps, within available resources, to ensure that all South Africans have access to adequate housing, health care, education, food, water and social security.

Developmental local government means a local government committed to "work with citizens and groups within the community to find sustainable ways to meet their social, economic and material needs and improve the quality of their lives". It should target especially those members and groups within communities that are most often marginalised or excluded, such as women, disabled people and very poor people. (White Paper, 1998)

Municipalities face great challenges in promoting human rights and meeting human needs, addressing past backlogs and problems caused by apartheid planning, and planning for a sustainable future.

They can only meet these challenges by working together with local citizens, communities and businesses, and adopting a developmental approach.

Developmental Local Government has four interrelated characteristics:

1) Maximising social development and economic growth

Everything that a municipality does should be done to impact as much as possible on the social development of an area. In particular, municipalities must be serious about their responsibility to provide services that meet the basic needs of the poor in their communities in a cost-effective and affordable manner.

This could be achieved in two ways:

1.1 Social services

Government policy is to provide a free basic amount of service for particularly water and electricity to households that otherwise do not have access to these services. They can also promote social development through arts and culture, the provision of recreational and community facilities, and the delivery of social welfare services.

1.2) Local economic development

While it is not the primary role of local government to create jobs it can take active steps to improve the conditions in the area for the creation of employment opportunities. When the municipality provides new basic household infrastructure such as water and sewage, contracts should preferably be given to local small businesses that will employ local people. This MUST be tracked and audited to avoid corruption.

Other programmes that are often initiated to alleviate poverty and enhance job creation are for example, the provision of support services, such as training to small businesses or community development organisations.

2) Integrating and co-ordinating

In most local areas there are many different agencies that contribute towards the development of the area, such as national and provincial government departments, parastatals [like Eskom and Spoornet], trade unions, community groups and private sector organisations.

Developmental local government must provide leadership to all those who have a role to play in achieving local prosperity. One of the most important methods for achieving greater co-ordination and integration is integrated development planning.

3) Democratising development

Municipal Councils play a central role in promoting local democracy. In addition to representing community interests within the Council, councillors should make sure that citizens and community groups are involved in the design and delivery of municipal programmes. Ward committees and community consultation are important ways of achieving greater involvement. [See the guide on Ward Committees]

Municipalities can also do a lot to support individual and community initiatives, and to direct them to benefit the area as a whole. The involvement of youth organisations in this regard is particularly important.

4) Leading and learning

Extremely rapid changes at the global, national and local levels are forcing local communities to rethink the way they are organised and governed. All over the world communities must find new ways to sustain their economies, build their societies, protect their environments, improve personal safety and eliminate poverty.

The leadership of a developmental municipality should stay on top of developments and change. They should be able to strategise, develop visions and policies and mobilise a range of resources to meet basic needs and achieve developmental goals in their area.

Local governments developmental orientation is borne out by the extent their impact is demonstrated in:

  • Provision of household infrastructure and services – this includes services such as water, sanitation, local roads, storm water drainage, refuse collection and electricity. Not only are these services a constitutional right but they can help people to support their families, find jobs and develop their skills to start their own small businesses.

  • Creation of liveable, integrated cities, towns and rural areas. Apartheid planning has left deep scars on the way our cities, towns and rural areas look. Cities and towns are racially segregated, with the poor often living in townships kilometres away from the business and industrial areas. The spatial integration of our settlements is critical. It will make our areas economically more efficient since it will be easier and cheaper to provide services, reduce the costs of public transport for workers, and enable social development. Spatial integration is also central to nation building.

  • Local economic development. Local government can play an important role in promoting job creation and boosting the local economy. By providing good quality cost-effective services and by making the local area a pleasant place to live and work in the municipality will have made a good start to sustainable local economic development.

For municipalities to become more developmental in nature, they must consider changing the way that they work. The following are some tools that can be applied innovatively to assist them to become more developmental:

Integrated Development Planning (IDP) and budgeting

Integrated Development Planning is a planning method to help municipalities develop a coherent, long-term plan for the co-ordination of all development and delivery in their area.

Municipalities face immense challenges in developing sustainable settlements, which meet the needs and improve the quality of life of local communities.

In order to meet these challenges, they will need to understand the various dynamics within their area, develop a concrete vision for the area, and strategies for realising and financing that vision in partnership with other stakeholders. [See the guide on IDP]

Performance Management

Performance management is a system that is used to make sure that all parts of the municipality work together to achieve the goals and targets that are set.

The municipality must have clear goals and specific targets of what has to be done to make sure the goals are achieved.

Every department and staff member should be clear what they have to do and how their performance will contribute to achieving overall goals and targets.

Performance of individuals, departments and the municipality as a whole should be monitored to make sure the targets are met.

Working together with local citizens and partners

Building local democracy is a central role of local government, and municipalities should develop strategies and mechanisms to continuously involve citizens, business and community groups in processes such as planning and budgeting through robust public participation and stakeholder management forums.

A latent strength of integrated development planning is that it involves the community in development, delivery and democracy.

GrowZA works within mechanisms like ward committees, IDP and development forums, budget consultation meetings and ward councillor public meetings to influence the policies and programmes of local government to support the developmental outcomes outlined. Partnering with donors and organisations who are serious about social investment and committed to communities is what we do best.


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