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(en) southern africa, Anarchist Communist Front - ZACF - Zabalaza #13 - Municipalities, Service Delivery and Protest by Oliver Nathan
Thu, 28 Feb 2013 08:40:05 +0200
“It’s like living in the apartheid era. We don’t exist,” said Nonthunzi Nodliwa, 46.
Nodliwe lives in Khayelitsha’s TR Section, where disillusionment with service delivery
runs high [ from: http://antieviction.org.za ] ---- Introduction ---- South Africa is an
extremely unequal society. The post-apartheid dispensation has seen the situation of the
majority poor black working class worsening (characterised by increasing unemployment, a
lack of adequate and affordable service delivery and exacerbated by rampant inflation). On
the other side of the coin, a few elites have ‘made it’ in capitalism and through the
state, often through the elitist forms of ‘Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE)’
and corruption. Inequality in South Africa is easily illustrated when one observes the
massive disparities in development, service delivery and wealth between townships and
rural areas on the one hand, and suburban areas on the other.
Nationally, South Africa faces a massive backlog in service delivery. Some 203 out of 284
South African municipalities are unable to provide sanitation to 40% of their residents.
This means that in 71% of municipal areas, most people do not have flush toilets. A
staggering 887 329 people still use the bucket system and 5 million people, or 10.5% of
the population, have no access to sanitation at all. It is perfectly understandable,
then, why working class and poor people take to the streets in protest against poor and
costly service delivery; it is these same people that are impacted most by insufficient
and costly service delivery, corruption and municipal mismanagement.
The post-apartheid state’s promise of an extensive roll out of service delivery in 1994
has been severly undermined by its long standing neoliberal approach to the provision of
services (discussed in the next section). While the state has made some headway in rolling
out services since 1994, thousands of communities living in rural areas and townships
continue to receive inadequate services. Moreover, the private sector approach has meant
that where services have been provided, the costs have generally been transferred to poor
communities who often cannot afford them.
The ability and willingness of the South African state to provide adequate service
delivery to all is not simply a question of having the ‘right’ political party or
sufficiently skilled people in power. Nor is it simply a question of having good policies,
or the adequate administrative means or technical capacity to implement it.
Should massive disparities in service delivery between wealthy and poor neighbourhoods be
put down to corruption, mismanagement, administrative incapacity and a lack of
consultation? Or is there something in how the state is structured and the way in which it
rules which means that it can never give the majority of people what they need?
Neo-liberalism and Privatisation in South Africa: RDP and Gear
Privatisation, at its most basic, refers to the state selling off public enterprises to
capitalists. The theory behind this neo-liberal approach is that that once privatised;
service delivery will become more efficient, cost effective and far-reaching. The
privatisation of electricity provision through the installation of prepaid electricity
meters in township homes is a case in point. Electricity privatisation through pre-paid
meters ensured that the price of electricity shot up dramatically – up to 20 per cent in
Between 1993 and early 1994 the ANC, in conjunction with its alliance partners, the
Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African Communist Party
(SACP), created the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). The RDP could be seen
as the election manifesto of the ANC in 1994, maintaining elements of the 1955 freedom
charter and promising and end to the social and economic inequalities generated under
The RDP election manifesto was put into effect in 1994 with the adoption of the RDP white
paper. The RDP overall contained a set of ‘Keynesian’ macroeconomic measures, which
stipulated that the state ought to take the lead in delivering services, housing and
infrastructure to the majority poor, mostly black popular classes. However, the RDP
election manifesto also, and this is less well known, already contained some neoliberal
elements alongside Keynesianism. The White Paper brought neoliberalism to the fore, firmly
establishing it as the basic framework. This means that the ANC didn’t just step into a
neoliberal state and take its programme on board: it actively endorsed and adopted the
neoliberal framework, evident in its very first general policy document.
The RDP was soon replaced by the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR)
macroeconomic framework in 1996. GEAR essentially promoted a far more aggressively
neoliberal approach to the state and the market, firmly consolidating the ANC’s neoliberal
orientation. Very broadly, GEAR promoted the privatisation of ‘non strategic’ state assets
and services, liberalised trade and promoted “flexiblily” in the labour market.
Despite claims that neoliberalism represents a weakening of the state, in fact it merely
designates it a different role: maintaining law and protecting private property, while
creating a suitable environment for the functioning of the market (including
infrastructure provision for the benefit of business), The role of the state in
intervening directly in markets is what is undermined in neoliberalism, not the state itself.
GEAR promoted privatisation, according to its own justifications, as a means to attaining
efficient and far-reaching service delivery – by placing it in the hands of the supposedly
more efficient private sector. Neoliberal theory is based on the assumption that
unfettered competition in the free market will deliver the greatest good to the greatest
number of people. It argues that state intervention into markets, such as the state owning
and operating enterprises which it itself subsidises, leads to uncompetitiveness (higher
prices for consumers) and inefficiency in service delivery. Privatisation has been
deployed, according to the state, to make the delivery of services more efficient, and to
help municipalities in particular to save money so that they can provide services better.
Although selling off ‘non-strategic’ SOEs can allow the state to commit less capital and
administrative capacity, it can also allow the state to raise capital for other projects
from the proceeds of selling the asset to a private sector buyer.
Crucially, the post-apartheid neoliberal state sought to justify the imposition of
neoliberal restructuring by appropriating Keynesian and developmental language and
rhetoric from aspects of the RDP and by arguing that GEAR was the means to which goals of
the RDP could be achieved. Behind the rhetoric however, GEAR represented the ultimate and
final consolidation of ANC neoliberalism and its abandonment of even a paper commitment to
There are three structural characteristics of the state that are common to all states.
Firstly, all states are fundamentally undemocratic and largely unaccountable to the
citizenry; secondly, all states are hierarchically organised, with those at the top
unaccountable to those at the bottom; and thirdly, all states have a bias in favour of
serving the long-term interests of the ruling classes. The South African state, at all
levels, is no exception. It’s character has implications for how services are delivered
and how we understand corruption. Analysing it helps us to assess the prospects for
popular class interests to be leveraged and maintained through the state.
Firstly, the local state in South Africa is fundamentally undemocratic because state
managers are not accountable to their constituents; people can only vote for new state
managers once every five years and have no control over them in the interim period.
Secondly, because of the hierarchical structure of the local state, high level managers
are not accountable to subordinate workers in the state. Therefore, upper management can
exercise managerial prerogative (authoritarian decision-making) to promote their own
interests ahead of those of subordinates and ahead of the class interests of the popular
classes. Thirdly, by virtue of the local state’s undemocratic and hierarchical structure,
it can be, and indeed is used by the ruling classes to secure the interests of the ruling
class (the state managers and capitalists) at the expense of the popular classes (the
workers and the poor).
Several factors combine to help explain why services are not delivered to the poor: the
statist structure of municipalities (regardless of the party in power), privatisation of
basic services, pervasive corruption and mismanagement including the under-spending of
budgets and the over-spending on state managers’ salaries. This is compounded by the fact
that the poor themselves have little say in determining how services ought to be delivered.
Understanding Municipalities in South Africa
Municipalities, otherwise known as local states are the level of state that operates at
the level of wards. Wards are geographical areas set up that divide provinces into smaller
chunks. Municipal governments then govern a grouping of wards, which are known as a region
or jurisdiction. Municipality leadership consists of a mayoral council, headed up by a
mayor, a municipal manager and executive councillors, who lead the various local
governments’ departments (e.g. Local Economic Development, Social Development, Health, and
Education.) District Municipalities, such as the City of Johannesburg Municipality and the
Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality have executive, legislative and judicial functions
too. This means that they have an executive that rule over wards, a legislature to
formulate by-laws and have magistrate’s courts and a police force to enforce the laws.
Under this layer of executive leadership are the ward councillors, who ought to represent
the interests of communities to the executive council and mayor. Ward councillors should
hold regular council meetings in which ordinary people can bring their grievances to the
councillor who then passes them onto the executive council of the municipality for
resolution. Municipalities are taken to be democratic and participatory spaces where
ordinary people can participate in the decisions taken, and elect new officials should the
current officials not be seen to be representing the people’s interests. However, the
local state is still highly undemocratic.
The ward system in particular is highly undemocratic in that ward committees often
hand-pick the members they would like to participate in decision making. Over and above
this, most officials at the municipal level are actually unelected. While the mayor or a
councillor might be elected, the city managers and other officials are appointed by the
party in power. These people often maintain their office regardless of the mayor who gets
Why is Municipal government relevant?
The municipalities are thus understood by the national state as the most appropriate level
of governance to carry out the objectives of service delivery and local economic
development. This is justified for three reasons :
The national state argues that municipalities are better positioned to know what people
need, as municipalities are allegedly institutionally closer to communities.
Because the national state argues that municipalities institutionally closer to
communities, decision making can allegedly be more participatory through the council system.
The national state, in light of the above, argues that policies can be applied more
effectively at the municipal level than at the national level.
However, as was mentioned earlier, a strong case can be made that the interests and
imperatives of government officials at the national, provincial and municipal levels of
the state are diametrically opposed to those of the poor and the working class. The
interests of capitalists and elites in government are taken by the state, at all levels,
to be the interests of all. A few officials in the state may have genuinely emancipatory
or egalitarian aspirations with regards to the popular classes. However well intentioned,
these aspirations are never articulated in meaningful, coherent and sustained ways because
of the authoritarian and hierarchical organisation of the state. Moreover, state actions
that might seem to serve the interests of the popular classes, no matter how well
intentioned, are always stymied by the ruling-class bias of the state. That is, the
interests of the ruling classes will always trump those of the popular classes because the
state exists solely to protect ruling class interests.
Given the inherent class bias in the state, there cannot be a genuine unitary ‘national
interest’ that is cultivated by the ruling class through the state that is ever fully
accepted by the popular classes. This is reflected in policies which are created by
elites who do not live in poverty or misery, are not oppressed, and have little
understanding or appreciation of the day-to-day struggles poor communities face. The
hierarchical structure of the state also means that policy-making cannot be democratic,
and that ordinary people cannot properly participate in its structures. The implication is
that the state can never give the masses what they really want.
Specifically, the claims of the democratic nature of local government should be
interrogated. Most municipal officials are in fact unelected. The municipal manager, for
example, remains in power regardless of the party of the incumbent mayor. All of the
senior members of the municipal management are in fact part of the ruling class and have
used their positions for personal gain or to push forward the agenda of their own class
(for example through so called ‘tenderpreneurship’). Thus, the very structure of local
government means that it cannot be democratic, nor can it be participatory.
Almost all municipalities have experienced corruption at one time or another. In South
Africa, this predates the democratic transition – despite some common perceptions that
this is somehow a new phenomenon. Because of the hierarchical character of the state and
the related lack of accountability of high level officials to their subordinates and the
general public, ‘shady’ tender deals with private firms and outright theft of state funds
and property is the norm.
The existence of such brazen forms of corruption is often put down to a lack of effective
anti-corruption policies, laws and ‘checks and balances’ that fail to make officials more
accountable to the national state or the public at large. However, because of its
hierarchical and undemocratic structure, the state affords state managers opportunity to
steal money and resources from the municipal almost unchecked. Even officials with the
best intentions going into local government are unable to meaningfully make an impact.
This is because rather that changing the local state; the local state changes them.
Ordinary people have no control over corruption because they are never given information
or control over how the money in municipalities is spent.
Municipal under-spending, lack of delivery and protest
National treasury reported that municipalities had under spent their budgets by R18,9bn in
the 2009/2010 year. In the 2008/09 year aggregate net under spending was recorded at
R16,6-billion, or 9,1%. In addition, despite a stipulation that no more than 30% of
provincial budget allocations should be spent on salaries, the reality is that in many
cases salaries absorb up to 60 percent of the budget. Local government salaries rose by
53% between 2006/2007 and 2009/2010 while municipal employment levels rose by just 4% in
the same period. The City of Cape Town Municipality’s top earner was Mayor Helen
Zille, who earned R858 260 (which includes a vehicle allowance of R214 564 ), while
councillors received only 7 percent of the budget in 2008 and an average of 5,75 percent
in 2007. In 2009 Zille’s salary will be almost R200 000 more than when she took office in
March 2006, at which point her salary was R669 214.
In 2009, in contrast, over 150,000 municipal workers in South Africa struck over paltry
pay offers in the face of massive inflation. In an overwhelming display of unity, over
150,000 workers employed by municipalities and belonging to both South African Municipal
Workers’ Union (SAMWU) and Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union (IMATU) across the
country rejected a wage offer of the employer body, South African Local Government
On 27 July 2009 SAMWU and IMATU embarked on strike action in all municipalities in every
province of the country. In Johannesburg 10,000 workers marched to Mary Fitzgerald
Square, rejecting SALGA’s offer and reaffirming SAMWU’s demand for a 15% increase and a
housing subsidy based on a R200 000 house. In Cape Town 3,000 workers marched to the SALGA
provincial offices to hand over a memorandum reasserting the union’s key demands of a
living wage of R4000, as well as the filling of the 25% vacant posts in the sector, and
the improvement of the housing benefit. In Durban 5,000 workers marched and picketed in
workplaces to ensure that no scabs performed the work of the strikers.
Though the actions around the country were conducted in a peaceful and disciplined manner
by SAMWU members the union expressed “outrage” at reports of police action against its
members in Polokwane, where workers have been shot at and arrested.
In 2011, Andries Tatane was murdered by the police while engaging in protest against the
lack of service delivery in Ficksburg, Free State province. This, after his community
after had “repeatedly written to the mayor and local government of Ficksburg pleading for
Tatane’s murder shows how municipalities are willing to deploy the police in order to
crush any resistance to people demanding their right to service delivery.
The most recent municipal elections, held in May of 2011, promised changes to the way in
which services are delivered to the poor. All of the political parties that campaigned
promised heaven and earth to communities. However, nothing so far has really changed
(except that some houses and toilets were built in a rush to secure votes for parties).
Soon after new councillors were voted in, people unhappy with the selections were involved
in the burning down of certain councillors’ houses. Many people understand the prolem to
lie with ‘bad apples’ – corrupt and inefficient candidates in local government. It is
believed that voting for a new trustworthy councillor or manager will bring about
improvements in service delivery. But this almost never happens. This is because few
criticisms are ever raised by protesters towards municipalities as structures
fundamentally unable to deliver.
Conclusion: South Africa’s National Question and Municipalities
In this paper, I argued that three characteristics of states in general, and the local
state in post-apartheid South Africa in particular, prevent the poor and working class
from attaining suitable services from the state. These arguments were the following:
firstly, that states are fundamentally undemocratic and largely unaccountable to the
citizenry; secondly, that all states are hierarchically organised, with those at the top
unaccountable to those at the bottom (which allows for corruption and mismanagement); and
thirdly, that all states have a bias in favour of serving the long-term interests of the
ruling classes (as expressed through neoliberal forms of privatisation in service delivery).
This explains why protests have become the principle means for expressing the frustrations
of poor and working class communities over the provision and cost of service delivery.
Protests by municipal workers are also an expression of the unwillingness of
municipalities to provide better wages and working conditions for these workers. The local
state in some cases is simply unable to provide adequate service delivery for poor and
working class communities or decent wages for its workers. But more importantly, the local
state is in fact unwilling to provide adequate service delivery and living wages because
the interests of the local state are the same as the interests of the ruling class.
Furthermore, the state exists to protect those interests, directly against the interests
of the popular classes.
According to Van der Walt (2011), South Africa’s transition to ‘democracy’ was a massive
victory against national oppression, which was won from below. It is therefore incorrect
to speak of the post apartheid situation as a continuation of “white supremacy”. There
have been huge gains in legal and social rights; many routine apartheid practices are
illegal, while affirmative action etc. is mandatory; yet the national liberation struggle
was left incomplete.
The ANC cannot bring about the completion of the national liberation struggle, and neither
could any political party using the state for national liberation. While a political
revolution may have occurred (the transition from apartheid to a national capitalist
democracy) an economic revolution has not occurred. The poor are still poor, workers still
exploited and only a few black people have become rich through BEE and other means. While
the roll out of extensive service delivery was a key thrust of the ANC’s election
manifesto, so far municipalities have not been able to carry out service delivery in a
democratic fashion in a sustained an equal way. Rather, municipalities have been used by
officials to enrich themselves.
2. City of Johannesburg,(2003), downloaded from: www.coj.gov.za.
3. Fighting against privatisation in South Africa
4. Oldfield, S. (2008), “Participatory Mechanisms and Community Building Projects:
Building Consensus and Conflict”. In M.van Donk, et al (eds), Consolidating Developmental
Local Government: Lessons from the South African Experience. Cape Town: UCT press.
6. Rudin, J. (2011) “Municipal Dysfunction can be Cured”. In Mail & Guardian, 7-13
8. Donelly, L. (2011) “Municipal Salary Bill Rockets while Staff Levels Stagnate” in Mail
& Guardian, 16-22 September, 2011.
9. Dentlinger, L (2009) “Council Salaries Go Up”,
12. Hattingh, S (2011), “Andries Tatane: Murdered by the Ruling Class”. In Zabalaza: A
Journal of Southern African Revolutionary Anarchism. No. 12
13. Bekker, I and Van der Walt, L (2011) “Build a Better Worker’s Movement”. In Zabalaza:
A Journal of Southern African Revolutionary Anarchism. No. 12
This entry was posted on February 10, 2013 by griffin36. It was filed under Zabalaza 13,
Zabalaza Journal .
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