Keynote address by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the SALGA Council of Mayors, East London International Convention Centre

Programme Director, Cllr Xanthe Limberg, Deputy President of SALGA,

President of the South African Local Government Association, Cllr Bheke Stofile,

Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma,

Ministers and Deputy Ministers,

Premier of the Eastern Cape, Mr Oscar Mabuyane,

Ms Tsakani Maluleke the Auditor General

Executive Mayor of the Buffalo City Metro, Cllr Xola Pakati,

Mayors, councillors and municipal officials,



Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good Morning. Molweni. Sanibonani. Dumelang. Goeie môre. Lotjhani. Avuxeni. Ndi Matsheloni.

Let me begin by thanking the Buffalo City Metro for hosting this year’s Council of Mayors.

It is now ten months since we held local government elections and began the new term of democratic local government.

The Council of Mayors is therefore an important platform for Mayors to reflect on their roles and responsibilities as they settle into their positions.

Earlier this week, national government convened a Cabinet Lekgotla, at which the strengthening of local government was a major topic of discussion.

There was agreement that challenges at local government level undermine the country’s social and economic development programmes.

The Premiers reported that the poor performance of local government is inhibiting the ability of provinces to drive the pressing economic recovery programmes our country needs.

When local government fails, it is not just service delivery that fails.

It isn’t just that our people’s expectations are not met.

The failure of local government has a direct and material impact on economic growth and jobs.

We cannot realise a South Africa of common prosperity, where the life of every person is improved, without a strong economy.

When roads are poorly maintained, people cannot get to work.

Produce and other goods cannot get to markets.

When important social infrastructure is not maintained, children cannot get to school, people cannot access health care and homes are often without water or electricity.

This has enormous costs for productivity, learning, health outcomes and quality of life.

The failure of local government is essentially the failure of government as a whole. If local government succeeds all of government becomes a success.

We do not need more diagnosis on the state of local government.

We have all seen the many reports, from those of the Auditor-General to the State of Local Government reports.

Local Government has come under a lot of scrutiny recently. Perhaps necessarily so as this is the most visible sphere and closest to the people.

As we pay closer attention to what should be done about local government we should imagine what an ideal local government should look like.

COGTA has identified key elements which they describe as – resilient, sustainable, coherent, cohesive, integrated, non-sexist, vibrant, climate smart communities and which if implemented would constitute and ideal municipality.

The elements are:

– A vibrant economy

– Money rotates in the area

– Inter-connected communities

– Place where people want to visit

– Decent living with clean air

– Skills and training hub

– Place where people access health, education and recreational facilities

– Place where there is safety and empowerment

– Food security

– Resilient human settlements

– A place where the District Development Model drives the integrated functioning of government

As our system of wall-to-wall municipalities manifests focused on all these elements all developmental work within a ward and our municipalities the ideal municipality would be a reality.

In analysing why local government does not achieve its developmental role four root causes, including the resultant effects and interventions, have been identified as the essence of the sector’s inability to discharge its mandate. These include:

1. Poor political leadership capacity and weak administrative management;

2. Ineffective utilisation of financial resources (poor financial administration), inability to collect revenue and insufficient fiscus allocation;

3. Inefficient and non-integrated local government delivery mechanisms, systems and processes to enable service delivery; and

4. Degenerating infrastructure and non-existent or poor services provided to local communities.

At the core of a municipality’s response to this problem statement is the role of the Mayor or Executive Mayor as the political head of the Municipality, exercising executive leadership pursuant to statutory and delegated powers.

As political leaders, Mayors and Executive Mayors provide political leadership and guidance in the council, in particular with regard to strategic planning and direction, financial planning and budgeting and policy development.

Executive Mayors are the political representatives of communities in various structures and interact with various stakeholders and leaders of other spheres of government.

We know what our key challenges are:

1. poor governance – instability by changing political leadership.

2. financial management and controls,

3. lack of proper planning,

4. revenue collection and generation,

5. skills and capacity – educational qualifications are poor.

6. corruption,

7. and political infighting and interference.

As national and provincial governments, we are challenged to look at how we use the constitutional and legislative instruments at our disposal to make local government work better address these challenges and to work for the people.

Expectations of mayors and executive mayors

What expectations do we have of our Mayors?

Considering the challenges our municipalities face, it is necessary to remind Mayors and Executive Mayors that the White Paper on Local Government provides that developmental local government requires a political leadership and by extension Mayors and Executive Mayors as political heads should be at the forefront, to do a number of things:

Firstly – provide community-wide leadership and vision: By putting forward a vision for the local area, building coalitions of common interest and encouraging the development of a vibrant civil society.

Secondly – constantly build its capacity to make policy judgements: Local political leaders should actively strengthen their ability to make policy judgements through deepening their understanding of the dynamics in the local area, anticipating changes and learning from past practice.

Thirdly – be accountable and transparent: This requires a political leadership which creates opportunities to account to the community. Increased accountability ensures that the actions of the Council reflect the aspirations of the community, increases the legitimacy of the Council and deepens local democracy.

Fourthly – build partnerships and coalitions: Meeting the needs and aspirations of local communities requires a political leadership able to build partnerships with communities, business, labour, various organs of civil society and other public agencies.

Fifthly – represent the diversity of interests: Municipalities should take active steps to ensure that representatives from groups which tend to be marginalised are encouraged to stand for elections.

Sixthly – demonstrate value for money: Local political leadership is responsible for ensuring that local taxes are utilised to the maximum benefit of the local community. Local political leadership should therefore be concerned with the efficiency and effectiveness of the local administration, and constantly seek to enhance performance and service quality.

Building on these leadership requirements, I call on Mayors and Executive Mayors to serve the communities with honesty, diligence and selflessness. Not only will this place them at the centre of responding to the weaknesses as identified in the problem statement, but more so place them at the epicentre of a local government leadership that positively contributes towards regaining and rebuilding trust and confidence of society in this sphere of government.

I also call on the newly elected Mayors and Executive Mayors to rise to the challenge of changing the narrative regarding the image, the standing and reputation of your municipality. A game-changer in this term of office is needed and required. In order to show and demonstrate that we are changing the narrative of local government

There must be consequence and accountability management. This must be the hallmark of restoring the credibility of our municipalities. It is not numerous workshops, support programmes and calls for more funding, however genuine they may be, that will shift the believability of the intentions, but consistent actions that inspire people who have lost hope and confidence in the promise of our constitution and local democracy, that our municipalities do care and act responsively to address communities concerns.

With most senior managers having left either through the ending of employment contracts or natural attrition, it should be impressed upon Mayors and Executive Mayors to appoint professional and competent managers to run municipal administrations. Similarly, to remain vigilant and act decisively on instances of maladministration and corruption in our municipalities such that the confidence will be restored in our municipalities.

Further to this, what will change the image of local government is when as Mayors and Executive Mayors, you advocate for the newly empowered MPACs to play their effective oversight role and mandate unhindered and when our council takes collective responsibility to enforce discipline and decisive actions when the Auditor General issues a disastrous audit report against our municipality and hold senior executives accountable.

Another area that needs to be addressed is the working relationship between Office Bearers in the Municipality.

As the municipal council operates in terms of several office bearers (Mayor, Deputy Mayor, Speaker and Chief Whip) and committees, the effective functioning of a council depends much on the co-operation and coherent distribution of functions between the various institutions and persons.

The relationship between the speaker and the mayor is often problematic because there is confusion about the speaker’s mandate. The full-time nature of a speaker also frequently attracts functions that fall outside of the traditional and legislated role of a speaker. We have similarly seen strained relations between Speakers and Chief Whips due to role clashes and duplication

There is therefore a need for greater political maturity by political office bearers, led by Mayors and Executive Mayors to ensure greater understanding of respective roles and responsibilities, supplemented with ongoing and structured political monitoring of adherence.

It may be in the interest of Mayors and Executive Mayors to instead of micro-managing, create internal reporting, monitoring and evaluation processes and structures to hold office bearers accountable. The absence of a M&E system also results in an absence of an early warning mechanism, hence the prevalence of many community protests that are not anticipated.

Local Government has undoubtedly made great strides towards realising the rights of our people to a better life and in advancing human dignity. We must, however, take a moment to reflect on the commitments made by former President Nelson Mandela, on the 27th of April 1994 when he said that “Our message is that the basic needs of the masses of the people must be addressed: the creation of jobs, of houses, the introduction of electricity, building of schools and hospitals, providing free, compulsory quality education, running water, paved roads”.

Upon honest reflection, it is common knowledge that across many parts of our beautiful country, this promise of 1994 has not yet been fulfilled. So, as Council of Mayors take stock of current realities, Mayors and Executive Mayors must go a step further to capture the moment as an opportunity to renew and recommit ourselves to the 1994 promise in this 5th Term of Democratic and People Centred Local Government, with sights clearly set on improving the living conditions of the people of South Africa through developmental local government – to embark on Course Correction which is best summarised as follows:-

i. A focused and committed leadership across all municipalities, with stronger strategic relations with the private sector and other social partners;

ii. Improvement in the quality and efficiency of local government through better funding, planning and execution;

iii. Fixing municipalities and their agencies to restore governance and service delivery;

iv. Being decisive in professionalising municipal administrations and stabilizing management and political leadership; and

v. Pursuing fiscal sustainability, sound municipal financial governance and eliminating corruption.

In dealing with the challenges that local government faces legislatively and effectively SALGA has raised the fact that a Section 139 intervention, although necessary in many instances, is not a sustainable solution to the challenges our municipalities face.

We know that we have to fix the underlying problems, not what we see on the surface.

In April this year, parts of KwaZulu-Natal, North West and Eastern Cape were hit by devastating floods.

In the aftermath, we were forced to confront serious questions about the ability of local government to deal with crises of this nature.

Moving beyond issues of humanitarian relief and infrastructure repairs, we found that basics like updated disaster management plans were found wanting.

Of the many lessons we have learned from the floods, and before that from the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to go back to basics stands out.

For local government, these basics include:

Firstly, putting people and their concerns first.

Secondly, supporting the delivery of municipal services to the right quality and standard.

Thirdly, promoting good governance, transparency and accountability.

Fourthly, ensuring sound financial management and accounting, and,

Finally, building institutional resilience and administrative capacity.

We are all familiar with these basic actions and we all agree that we must prioritise them.

The question then is, why are we not successful in implementing these actions?

Why are we continuing to witness persistent failures that are widening the levels of distrust and lack of confidence between us and the South African people?

The reality is that we cannot return to basics so long as local government is seen by many as a terrain of patronage, political squabbles and personal enrichment.

That is why this Council of Mayors, aside from looking at the critical issues of best practice in governance, financial management and community engagement, needs to grapple with these challenges.

It needs to discuss how to shield municipal management and functions from political interference, infighting and corruption.

No discussion around building stronger municipalities will be complete without a frank look at the conduct of those who run them.

Since the election last year, more municipalities than ever before are governed by coalitions.

This means that, if we are to effectively attend to the needs of residents, there needs to be far greater cooperation across party lines and less focus on ding dong practice of removing mayors every week of the month.

There needs to be a concerted and shared effort to address growing levels of public dissatisfaction with service provision.

There is hardly a municipality in this country, regardless of who runs it, that has not been impacted by some form of protest.

We have seen a deeply disturbing trend of attacks on councillors and municipal administrators. I am told that more than 300 councillors have been killed in the past few years by virtue of being councillors.

Although this violence has varying causes, we need to once again take a hard look at the extent to which this is a manifestation of something much deeper. Is it as a result of public anger or is it because some of our municipalities have been captured by other interests? Have criminals taken over some of our municipalities?

As mayors you carry a heavy responsibility.

It is up to you to ensure that your respective councils aren’t just functional and fulfil their mandates, but also that they are cohesive.

You have to ensure that suitably qualified and experienced managers are appointed and that there is regular upskilling and training.

Municipalities have to make provisions in their budgets for capacity building and development programmes for councillors.

As I said at the recent SA Human Rights Commission Conference on Local Governance, communities must feel that they have a stake and a voice in how their municipalities are governed.

You are champions of accountability.

You need to ensure performance and consequence management.

We should therefore welcome the fact that National Treasury, CoGTA and SALGA are finalising a Consequence Management and Accountability Framework.

This should empower councillors and administrative leadership to effectively implement consequence management.

You are trade and investment ambassadors, promoting your metros, cities and towns as places where businesses can grow and thrive.

You are political heads and have to ensure that your administrations are stable and protected from political interference.

This means you have to lead by example and not indulge in the very conduct for which you seek to discipline others.

You are your administration’s foremost advocate of sustainable development.

Mayors have to ensure that infrastructure is climate resilient and that communities are protected from extreme weather events.

This requires partnerships to mobilise expertise and resources to support sound decision-making and investments.

Mayors must lead the country’s transition to renewable energy sources, efficient water use and management, effective solid waste management, the construction of climate-proof infrastructure and green transportation.

As Mayors, you are a bulwark against corruption in all its forms and have a critical role to play in promoting ethics and integrity in our municipalities.

We look to Mayors to guide the Local Government Anti-Corruption Forums convened under the District Development Model.

A critical issue for local government is that of municipal revenues and revenue collection.

Local government is different from other spheres of government in that most of its revenues are meant to come from local businesses and residents.

The infrastructure services that local government provides are ‘trading services’ and need to be run along business lines.

We are committed to provide free basic services to indigent households, but everyone else must pay for the services that municipalities provide. Mayors must be at the forefront of spreading this message amongst the residents of your municipalities.

Yet in municipality after municipality, we have been hearing the same story.

Services are poor or are not being provided, the relationship with residents has broken down and residents are not prepared to pay for poor quality services.

By ensuring a decent level of service and by treating customers both fairly and professionally, residents will have their faith and trust restored and will be prepared to pay for services.

This Council of Mayors has set an ambitious agenda.

We should not allow the recommendations that come out of this Council to languish in a file somewhere.

The country’s mayors have the responsibility to steer the ship of local government through turbulent waters.

It is not a responsibility that can be outsourced.

Like all of us, you were not elected to serve a party, a government, private interests or your own personal interests.

Like all of us, you were elected to serve the South African people.

I have the utmost confidence that this is a mandate you understand and fully appreciate.

I also have the utmost confidence you are up to the task.

We have to go back to basics and deliver on our promise to the South African people.

We have to regain their trust.

We have to work with unity of purpose to overcome poverty, unemployment, inequality and underdevelopment.

Above all, we have to ensure that in driving inclusive growth and economic development we leave no-one behind.

I thank you.

Issued by: The Presidency

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