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Who sucks? Our municipalities!

If I were doing Auditor-General Terence Nombembe’s job I would be very angry and demoralised about dishing out the same warnings to local governments over the dismal performance of their municipalities every year.

This week was another of those when Nombembe told us how financial management had degenerated over the past three years and irregular expenditure rose from R6 billion in 2010 to R10 billion. He also reminded us how rife corruption is — “beyond tolerable levels”. The reasons for this range from irregular tender processes to poor financial management. Our government led by the ANC should be worried because clearly something is wrong with our local government system if five of our nine provinces (including Gauteng and North West) fail to produce clean audits. Something is wrong if just 13 of our 283 municipalities receive clean audits.

Even worse is when eight metros, including Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, which are considered well-off with resources and the right people to do the job, fail to impress. But why should Nombembe, or even the public, be surprised by these revelations? They just magnify the embedded rot that is known to be there at local government level. It exposes the incompetence, lack of proper skills, lack of oversight by senior provincial and national leaders, lack of accountability by senior managers, corruption and maladministration, most of which have been identified in the government’s monitoring and frequent presidential visits, but nothing was done.

Maybe we need another monitoring unit to monitor the one appointed a few months ago. The truth is that the government cannot start crying now when it’s all written in the service delivery memoranda every day. The ANC should have raised the alarm when it started to get rejected by the electorate at the local government polls. People cannot be fooled forever. It seems these officials are a law unto themselves. Nombembe highlighted that mayors and local councillors in most of the municipalities that didn’t receive clean audits were warned before, and their reluctance or refusal to act on recommendations and intervention strategies from previous audits led to where we are now. But it cannot all be left to the auditor-general alone to deal with.

The government needs to act and enforce these recommendations. The problem of skills which was highlighted is worrying because it’s always overlooked by the government. Actually, it’s cadre deployment by the ANC which feeds municipalities with unskilled officials. The ANC puts people in positions only because they can shout President Jacob Zuma’s name louder and sing better than the rest of their comrades. If running municipalities was a pop show, we sure would have winners. The ANC should get the right people on merit and experience to run our municipalities. Does our government really want to tell us that we don’t have the right people — outside its card-carrying lot — who can run efficient local governments?

The culture of impunity is the primary reason most of those implicated in this easily get away with it. As things stand right now, there are few examples of where incompetency has been punished by the government. Laws against corruption should be strongly enforced and those responsible brought to book. The old culture of public service under which public servants serve the public honestly and efficiently should be re-instilled. Zuma and his ministers and premiers should lead by example.

If they allow corruption to happen at the top, those at the bottom will see it as a way of life. If Zuma doesn’t act against his incompetent ministers, there’s no motivation for councillors to perform well in their duties. I don’t know if we should celebrate now that the government is starting to open its eyes 18 years later to find the “link between bad audit reports and service-delivery protests”. I’m sorry Minister Collins Chabane, but the link has always been there. It’s not the first time the auditor-general has painted this picture.

Task teams that the government sent to regions plagued by service protests came back with the same results. And it shouldn’t be surprising when most municipalities in Nombembe’s report have experienced violent service protests, Mr Minister. A Setsoto municipality, which includes Ficksburg, made famous by the killing of activist Andries Tatane, is one such example. It received a qualified audit in 2009/10, and the audit was not even finalised this time. The cries of people in these municipalities are the same and their grievances are quite legitimate. In 54 municipalities, R3.7 billion meant to provide services to them was not spent. We can only hope things will get better from here. But the government needs to take the auditor-general’s recommendations seriously. Otherwise we might have to watch this important chapter nine institution collapse along with our local governments.

The article first appeared in The Witness.


  • Isaac Mangena is a Chapter Nine Communicator slash activist. He has spent much of the past ten years of his life in a newsroom. He is a former TV and Newspaper journalist who focuses on African and international news. He previously worked for Media24 and Agence France-Presse. Isaac holds a BA Psychology degree from the University of the North (now Limpopo). He reads, writes and critique – a lot.


  1. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 27 July 2012

    The Auditor General was on Xolani Gwala’s “After 8 Debate” on SAFM.

    I smsed this question to him which Xolani read out “How many qualified audits were there in 1993?”

    The Auditor General ducked the question. Does anyone else know the answer?

  2. Tofolux Tofolux 27 July 2012

    Your analysis has to go further. If you look at municipalities after 1994, ask yourself why they have this huge challenge in delivering. If you do an assessment pre 1994 ask yourself why service delivery was deemed to be a success. The question that needs to be raised, are municipalities viable and does it work as a South African Model. I put it to you, It will never work, it does not work and it cannot work. Pre 1994, former white areas could praise municipalities, simply because they had infrastructure and the poor financed their municipalities through beer halls, dog tax, bicycle tax, etc etc. Facts show that these municipalities wer not funded by locals. Companies assisted municipalities in building houses for their employees and providing the necessary infrastructure that goes with those building, also state owned enterprises assisted municipalities eg Railway houses etc. It was the Nat govt who took this example and sold it at Codesa to concretise the proposals for Local govt. On paper it looked viable but in reality it is a nightmare. After 1994, that same model could not be repeated and it is NOT because of corruption. In fact to moot corruption speaks to poor assessment. The local tier of govt cannot work in the timeframe it should because the laws eg ACTS do not allow them to operate under those conditions. Local and Provincial govt should be scrapped. It is the same as the homeland policy and cocoons power in certain centres only. Local govt will always fail.

  3. Ms M Ms M 27 July 2012

    Maybe if people had actually read the MFMA they wouldn’t be as cynical about the audit outcomes, this law will challenge a chartered accountant, never-mind a stressed official in a politically disrupted municipality.

    To give some perspective, very minor and legal deviations from a budget can trigger a finding, so an unqualified audit with findings is a good outcome. Municipalities have to comply with some of the most onerous legislation and the lack of skills mentioned by the Auditor General refers to a lack of capacity to comply with laws that hamper service delivery.

    Yes there is corruption, but often corrupt people are devious enough to find loopholes in the laws and audit requirements. Who is writing about the cost of compliance, the time and money spent complying with laws that could otherwise be spent delivering services?

  4. Lenin's Toothbrush Lenin's Toothbrush 27 July 2012

    “The ANC puts people in positions only because they can shout President Jacob Zuma’s name louder and sing better than the rest of their comrades. ” Spot on. But the ANC is even worse than that. It generally puts people in positions because they are in some way compromised (and hence vulnerable and open to threats and intimidation) by things like possible criminal charges, and secondly because they can be counted on not to reveal disturbing truths about other members of the leadership (such things as possible criminal charges). It is hard to run a country when the only people available are from the Mafia.

  5. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 28 July 2012

    The best way to stop Municipal Corruption would be to allow NO Municipality to issue ANY tender – and direct them all to a central Regional Tender Board.

    Also to allow NO municipality to approve ANY development of land without the approval of the Department of Agriculture (which used to be the case till Mbeki changed the law) or to sell ANY state or municipal or parastaal land (the little that is left after 18 years of pocket lining).

    Which will NOT help with the collections side – which needs qualified bookkeepers and credit contollers back (never mind the expensive accountants who should only look at the work AFTER it is properly done).

  6. Peter Joffe Peter Joffe 28 July 2012

    Accountability is the name of the game. No one in the ANC led government is accountable so who cares? They do as they please and can still expect bonuses, privileges and promotions.
    From the president to the dustbin man poor service or no service is the highest level that they have to attain and the tax payers and the unemployed have to pay the bills. As long as the gravy train keeps supplying the gravy to those at the gravy trough, we can all sing and dance into oblivion. Its useless talking about service delivery when skills for doing the required tasks are not required or available to the right community. What a mess the ANC has made of our once growing country but, don’t worry it is going to get worse as fools and idiots are appointed to high office. So what can you expect other than the feeble efforts of fools and idiots. “Angie cracks the whip” we are told in the headlines but what do you get when you motivate an idiot? It’s easy, you get a motivated idiot and the results are the same – failure, but a bit faster.

  7. Ian Dewar Ian Dewar 28 July 2012

    @Ms M. I agree. Much of the legislation municipalities have to work under is indeed onerous, and is, I believe, the major cause of the lack of socio-economic progress in this country. It completely stifles any form of creativity and limits their activities to a narrow range of utilitarian services. But it also provides them a legislative shield to hide behind, which they use quite frequently – along with the excuses of “but there’s no money”, and “but that’s a provincial matter”.

    In order to affect the vital objectives of Section 152 of the Constitution, local governments must become the project managers for their whole community’s future. And any project manager worth his or her salt knows that without absolute coordination authority over every single aspect of a project there is no way that project is ever going to be started let alone completed.

    The Municipal Systems Act envisages local government as becoming “…the efficient, frontline development agency capable of integrating the activities of all spheres of government for the overall social and economic upliftment of communities in harmony with their local natural environment”.

    And Section 156(4) of the Constitution enables a municipality to take over the administration of any powers necessary to fulfill their obligations.

    The cardinal question is when are local governments going to find the guts necessary to take on these powers, and truly become the project managers of our future?

  8. MLH MLH 28 July 2012

    Great start, Isaac. Now how about drilling down into specifics in specific municipalities? All the electrical power stolen that no one bothers to rectify; those who don’t pay for the water wasted; gifts and overseas trips for councilors before service delivery is considered; garbage left uncollected in Jhb suburbs and townships; the same municipality’s billing woes; services still unconnected In Durban and surroundings for new housing…
    It doesn’t take scare skills to achieve administrative competence. In fact, most financial departments can function brilliantly with decent clerks, data capture clerks and only one senior overseeing manager. I ask a man who is a financial manager in one of the national departments last week, what his qualification is: matric and a long career in public service financial accounting. He’s the best I have ever worked with!

  9. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 28 July 2012

    @Issac, You used the right word accountable, I have been saying for a long time nobody is elected in SA and accountable to the people. If the people on the local level were elected by the people, many of them would be kick out of office and put in prison. The ANC can’t take action against these people running the local government when these are same people in December that will be voting for the head of the ANC.

    In SA today and this is true for most of Africa, the educated people can’t get jobs and the uneducated people are trying to perform jobs they aren’t qualified to do. In Africa today, there is a flight of educated Africans with one way tickets to Europe and North American because they can’t get a job in Africa. The word open competitive doesn’t exist in most black Africa and this includes SA. In Kenya, after the uprising there, the government tried to reform the system by setting a minimum qualification for each job and the jobs must be posted. Maybe, SA should follow Kenya and reformed the system to make the people running the government compete for their jobs.

  10. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 28 July 2012

    @Ian Dewar, do you favor direct election of the officials of the local government? The only way these people in the government can be held accountable is let the officials be directly elected by the people. These people aren’t going to do anything to their relative that they have appointed to jobs in the government.

  11. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 28 July 2012

    @Beddy, in no democracy in the world there is nobody elected to office except in SA. In SA there isn’t any accountability by the government to the people because nobody was elected to office. When the Basic education minister made the passing score thirty to make it look like she was doing her job, she should have been fired. However, Zuma made a speech praising her on the great job the Minister was doing. The only reason he did this is because she is the head of the WL and controlled delegates for the convention in Dec. Educating the children in SA has been put on the back burner and staying in power is all that counted. I am shocked that COPE didn’t make political capital out of this issue like the DA did.

  12. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 29 July 2012


    If we had had direct elections in 1994 South Africa might have become a Zulu Monarchy under the Zulu King with everyone forced to send their daughters to a reed dance ceremony every year for the King to chose a bride perhaps?.

    You consistently try to impose American Systems on Africa. Africa is tribal and not mono-cultural.. Minority tribes and rights have to be protected or you will have continual warfare. Which is why we have proportional representation, and why Southern Africa has Tribal Areas/Homelands for every tribe, which Homelands have not developed either farming or manufacturing in 150 years in SA

  13. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 29 July 2012


    According to Robert Calderisi about 60,000 educated blacks migrate out of Africa every year. An estimated million whites have migrated out of SA (exactly the people who had the education and skills to create jobs).

    Africa is TRIBAL! The biggest Tribe wins the election and then the “Chief” awards patronage ONLY to his own supporters/tribe!

    Which is WHY the white settlers urged “Education(out of tribalism) before Liberation(or you will bring back the tribal wars)”

    The ANC countered with “Liberation Before Education”.

    De Klerk probably assumed SA’s blacks had received more education than most and would cope! he DID urgently warn Mandela that the most important problem to tackle would be the undevelopment of the Homelands. Well it has STILL not been tackled, 18 years later!

    No-one can tell me what either the ANC or DA policy is on the Homelands! Instead Zuma is playing the “Zulu King” lifestyle to court the tribal chiefs and the votes they control. As I have pointed out before it was only AFTER Polokwane that he began all these new tribal marriages.

    Gaddaffi and Mugabe also fell back on the support of tribal chiefs when they lost support in the cities.

  14. The Creator The Creator 30 July 2012

    We actually don’t know how badly our municipalities are performing. It is simply an assumption that they are performing badly — I know that my local municipality is overcharging my local area on rates, but I don’t know what they are doing with the money except in the few areas which I visit. I suspect they’re a crowd of sleazeballs, and what little I’ve seen of them confirms this, but on the other hand I don’t know how badly their funding has been cut or how substantially their responsibilities have grown.

    It’s a lot easier to attack a municipality on the basis of ignorance than to go out and discover what they are actually doing.

  15. Ian Dewar Ian Dewar 30 July 2012

    @Sterling Ferguson. Apart from the inherent, political polarization of the community, the lack of professionalism apparent as paid employees of the state, and non-compliance with various sections of state legislation, I have no problem with the current elective process. Its basis is a constitutional procedure after all.

    I think, rather, that the problem behind establishing democratic accountability has its root in the lack of legislative definition for how it must work. What is required to solve this problem, I believe, are 1) the legal, and fully representative, community entity in local government, and 2) the minuted, contractual agreements between it and the other two local government entities which define strategic objectives, roles and responsibilities, time frames, and budgets – to which all three entities can be held accountable in law.

    And to establish these contracts there first has to be scenario planning and vision building before consensus can be reached on the defined strategic objectives. A complex procedure initially, I know, but one which is thereafter subject to a simple process of, say, annual review and adaptation.

    In other words, state law and cooperative reason must rule where politics and bureaucracy may not – within the democratic community.

  16. Ms M Ms M 30 July 2012

    @ Sterling

    You asked Ian Dewar this question but as someone who works closely with municipalities I don’t think officials should be elected. Competent officials offer stability to a municipality that can weather political changes. Often technically competent people needed in government are not outgoing or popular, which is the basis upon which many political leaders are elected. I do think the recent legal reforms to ensure political office bearers don’t become officials should be implemented. I also think civil society should impose themselves in the councils decisions in the hiring and removal of officials which may improve accountability.

    @ Ian Dewar
    I completely agree municipalities need to stop making excuses and start directing development as the constitution and Municipal Systems Act intended. The fact that some of the best performing municipalities are not the best resourced, but perhaps the most creative is testimony to this. It would be good to see more presentation of good performance in the press so that people can be informed to ask of more of their municipalities.

  17. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 31 July 2012

    @Ms M
    Dewar, SA is run by a group of kingmakers and they are the ones that meet and choose the the president of the ANC. It has been assumed that who ever is chosen to be the head of the ANC will be president of SA. The president then appointed the kingmakers to jobs to run the country. There is nothing done to make sure these people that are appointed to office, meet the minimum qualifications for these jobs. Dr. Ramphele spoke about this today in her response to Zuma saying that apartheid was the cause the books were not delivered. She says that in Asia the governments appointed experts to run things but, in SA comrades are appointed with no skill to run the government.

    Finally, how can a person be a cabinet minister, member of parliament and the head of his party? Zuma had two people in his cabinet that were caught stealing from the government and they both were fired by him but, these two people also members of parliament. In my opinion the whole system should be reformed to stop the looting of SA. SA is going to go broke and the economy will collapse if nothing is done to stop the rot.

    In Brazil, Lula was the president and didn’t have a college degree but, all of his cabinet ministers were very highly educated people. When somebody was caught with their hands in the cookie jar he would fired them.

  18. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 31 July 2012

    @Dewar, Ms M, if something isn’t done soon this country will go the way of Chicago of the 1930s when the mob ruled this city. The NPA is run by the same people who doing all of the stealing and nobody is going to jail. Is this what Mandela spent twenty seven years in prison for to see a country been looted?

  19. Ian Dewar Ian Dewar 31 July 2012

    @Sterling. On the face of it I would agree with you that things seem pretty grim at the moment in South Africa. But if you look behind the political scenes there is much professional, and very high quality work being done to resolve our problems.

    You do raise the crucial point of the conflict of interest apparent between politics and good governance. I believe that legislative clarity is urgently required on the leadership role a political nominee takes on when appointed as a ward community leader and employee of state government. I think that the same rule of professional conduct which prevents a municipal manager being on a party political executive at the same time should also apply to ward councilors when elected. How can they be accountable to their whole legislated constituency and also be accountable to their lesser political constituency at the same time?

    Basically politicians have to grow up and recognize that as party politicians they may operate freely according to party policy, but as elected members of government they have to operate strictly according to state law – and professionally, respectfully, and honestly serve the whole of their democratic community.

    Obviously this requirement should apply to all tiers of government.

  20. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 1 August 2012

    @Dewar, the good thing in SA the people are now talking about the problems in SA and calling for reforms. The first reform should be is to stop people from holding dual positions in the government. There is no way one can be an officer of a party that don’t take part in the election and be appointed to parliament as a what? This is a violation of the election law of proportional representation. Vavi is right to turn down a job in the government when the ANC offered him a job. He says that this was a conflict of interest for him to be holding both positions. I hope Issac does an article on this matter of people holding dual positions in the government in SA.

  21. Viva ANC Viva ANC 1 August 2012

    Come, come. It’s only14 billion rand.

  22. michael michael 2 August 2012

    Peter Joffe, well put.

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