South Africa recently celebrated its 18th year as a nascent democracy, and it undoubtedly has much cause for celebration. Then again, it has equally much to be concerned about. With one party governing in eight out of nine provinces, and another party governing a single province – the Western Cape – since 2009, one would imagine that the latter would provide a viable alternative model of governance in the new dispensation.

Not so. Instead of providing such a model of social integration and how an “equal opportunity society” works for all citizens, the Western Cape provincial government has chosen to entrench mainly white privilege and undermine the fundamentals of what makes South Africa a rainbow nation through governing by deferment. That is, if it works, claim the kudos but if it doesn’t, defer all blame on national government. Does such a dysfunctional approach amount to a breach of inter-governmental cooperation, and what are its implications for governance and service delivery?

Take the recent “refugee” slur that has caused an uproar not only in the context of rural Grabouw and the problem of overcrowding in schools, but also reverberated throughout the Western Cape and beyond. Nearly a month, if not more, after the original utterance, the best explanation that could be offered, albeit apparently factual, was that the national department of public works had not consented to a request for land usage.

Now it doesn’t take rocket science to ask whether the provincial government or the local municipality had no available land in Grabouw. Nor does it take a team of experts to determine whether “other privileged schools” in the area had absolutely no available classroom space or land that could be utilised to accommodate some, if not all, of the affected “refugee learners”. Does this not amount to expediency and dereliction of duty in its failure to resolve the problem and, for its own political ends, to blame the problem on national government?

This reminds one of other similar incidents of governing by deferment. On the eve of the 2011 local government elections, the Tafelsig backyard dwellers mounted a protest action that was met with such kragdadigheid that it reminded one of the heyday of apartheid state brutality. At the core of the matter was the problem of overcrowding and long waiting lists.

The response after two years in government in the province – instead of taking ownership of the problem and acknowledging the consistent failure to adequately address the problem -was predictably to lay blame at the doorstep of national government. This disingenuous act was an acknowledgement of the failure of the provincial government to provide an adequate solution. More significantly, it enabled the opposition to place all blame on national government, obfuscating the fact that it was governing in the Western Cape and had full responsibility for the problem at hand.

Perhaps the cherry on top in the governing-by-deferment or blame saga was the repeated failure of the provincial government to contribute towards resolving the human settlement crisis in the Western Cape with the huge housing backlog in the province. Instead it underspent its housing budget for two years in a row – no prizes for guessing the explanation given.

There is an old adage that says you can fool some of the people all of the time, you may even fool all of the people some of the time, but you can never fool all of the people all of the time. Will the Western Cape provincial government now take full responsibility for governing in the one province in its control, and make every citizen feel welcome, their needs adequately addressed and their plight and voices adequately heard, instead of governing by deferment and playing the blame game?


Lee-Roy Chetty

Lee-Roy Chetty

Lee-Roy Chetty holds a Master's degree in Media studies from the University of Cape Town and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. A two-time recipient of the National Research Fund Scholarship, he...

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