The state of local governance in South Africa: what does the local governance barometer tell us?

The state of local governance in South Africa: what does the local governance barometer tell us?

South African citizens dissatisfied with local government services

Following the application of the Local Governance Barometer (LGB) to appraise the state of governance in 16 local municipalities within South Africa, this paper presents an overview and analysis of the main findings.

One of the main conclusions of this assessment is that South African citizens are increasingly dissatisfied with the quality and quantity of services provided by local government. This is despite the fact that local government in South Africa has improved its service delivery substantively over the past ten years at a pace and extent rarely seen anywhere in the world. Nevertheless, citizens in South Africa generally feel further removed from (local) government and from “development”, and demand more and better services on the one hand while being less willing to contribute to local development through their own actions and initiatives on the other hand. While improving the quality and quantity of basic services should remain at the top of the local government agenda, in reality over the next ten years most municipal councils will not be able to fully eradicate the backlog in basic services, which will continue to frustrate and disillusion citizens and negatively affect the legitimacy of the municipality. To cope with this situation effectively and prevent potential social unrest, it is imperative that municipalities improve their governance and provide citizens with tools and resources to change their own situations.

Key recommendations include:

  • municipal councils should adhere to one of the basic rules of proper management: “Do what you say and say what you do”, meaning be reliable, accountable, transparent and informative
  • councils should be more of a facilitator and a catalyst than an implementer, i.e. help citizens to solve their own problems and not necessarily solve their problems for them
  • they must be more transparent about decision-making processes (including providing proper feedback to ward committees, communities and citizens who have complaints or proposals)
  • the government department of Provincial and Local Government (DPLG) will need to continue and, where necessary, intensify support for local government institutions
  • DPLG should also look for ways to bring provincial government closer to the people and be more supportive to government institutions at municipal level.
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