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(en) Southern Africa, zabalaza.net: Moving from Crisis in South Africa's Municipalities to Building Counter-Power by Bongani Maponyane (ZACF)
Mon, 22 Jul 2019 09:44:38 +0300
Across South Africa, municipalities are in crisis. They are under-funded, anti-working
class, anti-poor and anti-township, and riddled with corruption by elites. The working
class is oppressed by the state - as well as the private bosses - and we say "Enough is
Enough!" We need to build an alternative: organs of counter-power, which can demand
changes and lay the foundations for a deep redistribution of wealth and power to the mass
of the people: the working class and poor. ---- Post-apartheid municipalities are
intended, on paper, to realise human rights through providing basic services, like
electricity, sanitation and water. They are meant to involve the public in decision-making
and budgetary planning through methods like imbizos, community meetings, ward councilor
meetings and Integrated Development Plans (IDPs).
In reality, the local arm of the state is extremely inefficient and fails dismally to
fulfil its stated purposes. Basic services, especially in the townships, are a disaster.
The local state is not about upgrading working class lives. It is a contested site of
power, used by rival groups in the local ruling elite to exploit people and extract
resources, including through corrupt tenders. Meaningful participation in municipal
processes is a lie.
THE MERAFONG MESS: KHUTSONG SUFFERS
Merafong City Local Municipality in the West Rand District of Gauteng province is a
perfect example. Merafong is the largest of three municipalities in the district, making
up almost half of its geographical area, and centred on Carletonville, an old mining town.
Under executive mayor Maphefo Mogale-Letsie of the ruling African National Congress (ANC),
the municipality's townships have been in turmoil.
Shockingly bad delivery of basic services has become the norm in Khutsong, a
high-unemployment, black working class township. Community members are very angry, and
there is a long list of grievances. We, in the township, are affected in all areas of
life: poor roads, lack of infrastructure, constant water cuts compounded by failing sewage
systems, illegal dumping and a lack of refuse collection, ongoing power blackouts, and
terribly built low-cost "RDP" government houses. Water leaks from collapsing
infrastructure have even led to sinkholes, the largest of which destroyed five houses.
CORRUPTION AND ELITE WEALTH ACCUMULATION
The local municipality is plagued with corruption, and this has had a serious effect on
service delivery. Those elected into key municipal positions pursue their selfish class
interests, always at the expense of the working class. The main methods used are control
over council funds by the elite, and the (often corrupt) outsourcing of municipal services
In 2014, for example, the mayor rejected calls by her own party, the ANC, for an
investigation into 21 dodgy tender awards, amounting to millions of rands, including R22
million for revamping the municipal website "at a time the municipality was struggling to
provide services to ratepayers, including replacing ailing infrastructure."Two years
later, the mayoral offices were upgraded, and a luxury car bought, without following
correct processes and at a time of disastrous conditions in Khutsong.Money for
repairing the sinkholes seems to have been diverted, with no repairs in sight.
Merafong was one of the municipalities involved in the VBS banking scandal. Municipalities
moved their accounts to the VBS Mutual Bank, in return for payments to senior municipal
officials, following which the money was embezzled by the bank managers in one of the
largest banking scams in South African history. As of 31 March 2018, Merafong municipality
had over R50 million rand in VBS. That money is effectively gone, as the bank collapsed in
a public uproar that exposed serious wrongdoing by chiefs and ANC and Economic Freedom
Fighters (EFF) leaders.
MALADMINISTRATION AND BANKRUPTCY
Coupled to corruption is maladministration: the rot begins at the very top with the mayor.
Political party loyalty, rather than skills or hard work, determine appointments, in a
system where people get jobs in return for support. By October 2018, Merafong municipality
was in debt to a staggering half-a-billion rands, including around R155 million to ESKOM
and around R314 million to other creditors.Municipal workers protested as salaries went
unpaid in September,while Khutsong underwent protests and road blockades.
On top of this, local municipalities are underfunded. Under neo-liberalism, the budget
allocation from national to local government to deliver services has been cut. The number
of people in urban areas is rapidly growing, and the need for money has also increased as
municipalities are expected to upgrade townships to address the apartheid legacy.
However, there has been a 85% decrease in inter-government transfers to local government
from 1991.Up to 90% of local government revenues have to be generated locally, usually
meaning higher charges and more cut-offs, cutting costs through methods poor maintenance,
outsourcing and casual workers, and other neo-liberal methods, like commercialising
The toxic mixture of corruption, incompetence and neo-liberalism means that many
municipalities underspend monies they do have, and fail to collect subsidies from central
government they could have, as they run so badlyand are so focused on local elite
THE PARTICIPATION MYTH
This situation has been happening for years on end, with no development in sight in
Khutsong. Surely community members deserve the right to a clean and healthy environment,
to decent living conditions and sustainable jobs? The system in place has not only robbed
us of dignity, but has left our neighborhoods unbearable, with sinkholes, failed storm
water drains and sewerage leaks, along with an ever-growing unemployment rate and
spreading squatter camps.
Municipal governments are only obliged to "consult" the public, that is, to hear their
views. The actual decisions are made by the municipal leadership.No decisions come to
the people for checking, and decisions cannot be reversed. Other methods are used to gut
the consultation processes as well: inaccurate reporting, use of English for complex
documents, withholding information including audits and reports, meetings at inconvenient
times and so on.
FROM STATE POWER TO COUNTER-POWER
The problems cannot be fixed by the state. Despite all the promises on paper, service
delivery does not align with the local government's ruling elites' interests: they are
dependent on votes, but not controlled by the voters.
The state, at all levels, is an authoritarian pyramid of power, which provides no space
for the working class and poor to participate in any positive way. Power is centralised in
the hands of a few, who can then make decisions in their own class interests. The only
group outside the municipality that this political elite will pay attention are the bigger
private capitalists, the economic elite. Such a system is ripe for corruption, and, even
when money is short, or administration bad, it focuses on elite interests.
The real solution is mass organising, creating what we anarchists call counter-power.
This, at the municipal level, means building outside and against the state: from street
committee to block committee to ward committee, and upwards, based on meetings and
delegates under strict mandates.
Instead of the working class communities being involved in the empty "participatory"
processes of the municipalities, which are controlled by elites, we want a bottom-up
process controlled by the working class and poor, on issues that affect the township. This
means gatherings based on real participation, where the working class public itself is the
core of all decision-making, and where all key decisions are passed by those affected
through democratic processes. Discussions must be at convenient meeting and at times, like
weekends or public holidays that enable participation by community members.
DEMANDS AND TRANSITION
It is essential that these organs of popular organising develop into a "counter-power,"
that is, into bodies that can fight, from below, for improvements now but that can also,
in the future, actually take over local governance. That does not mean making them into a
copy of the municipality: it means building an alternative, decentralised system of
bottom-up democracy, from the street upwards, which will run the services and develop the
areas according to decisions and planning from below, based on common ownership.
The reality is that the system cannot deliver. To build counter-power, we need to be
willing to organise protests, and we must always run education. At the same time, our
demands should make sure we can operate at a distance from the state, autonomously, rather
than get dependent on the politicians. A concrete example of how we can do this is to
demand building materials and build our own houses, where we choose, rather than demand
RDP houses, built at low quality by local capitalists, far from work.
In building counter-power, it might be useful to attend the various municipal meetings,
imbizos, and so on held by the authorities. Grievances can be raised, and demands made for
access to audits and information, including in local languages. We must demand
transparency and the release of forensic reports of municipal accounts, and if this is
refused, it exposes the true nature of the system. But this does not mean pretending these
municipal give us a real say - just using the platform to confront the authorities and
highlight the backlogs and corruption, building our movements.
Most importantly, this is a call for mass organisation in the community, for us to start
building our own structures outside and against the state - and to fight and struggle for
ourselves as the working class community of Khutsong, rather than trust the parties.
Baldwin Ndaba, 9 July 2014, "Mayor ‘ignored calls for tender probe,'" IOL online,
Ana Reporter, 4 February 2018, "Mayor treats herself to new Benz while Merafong falls
into disrepair," IOL online,
Carletonville/ Fochville Herald, 7 November 2018, "Municipal finances looking worse,"
Carletonville/ Fochville Herald, 3 September 2018, "VIDEO: Werkers betoog voor
Ronald Wesso, 2006, An Alternative View of Globalisation, Local Government and
Democracy, ILRIG, Cape Town, p. 17.
Oliver Nathan, 2013, "Municipalities, service delivery and protest," Zabalaza: A
Journal of Southern African Revolutionary Anarchism, number 13,
Ronald Wesso, 2006, An Alternative View of Globalisation, Local Government and
Democracy, ILRIG, Cape Town, section 1.
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