Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the SALGA National Members Assembly, Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre, Ethekwini
President of SALGA, Councillor Parks Tau,
Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr Zweli Mkhize,
Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance, Mr Andries Nel,
CEO of SALGA, Mr Xolile George,
Members of SALGA’s National Executive Committee and Executive Management Team,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to be with you today.
Gathered here are the women and men who have been given the responsibility by the people of this country to give effect to the vision of a better life for all.
It is through local government that the needs and aspirations of our people are most directly addressed.
It is at a local level that the transformation of our country is made visible, where improvements in the quality of life of South Africans is made manifest.
Where local government leads, South Africa follows.
When it comes to our country’s development, local government is the difference between failure and success.
That is why this gathering is vitally important in our national calendar, and why SALGA is such a critical institution within the democratic state.
The National Development Plan says that developmental local government is central to the eradication of poverty and the reduction of inequality and unemployment by 2030.
However, as the NDP notes, municipalities have often found that these expectations exceed their administrative and financial ability.
As the delegates to this assembly know only too well, far too many of our municipalities do not have the means to respond adequately to the needs of their residents.
To address these issues, the drafters of the NDP argue, a clear, long-term and consistent approach is required.
As the country, we look to this National Members Assembly to provide guidance on the approach we need to take to ensure local government is capable of effectively fulfilling its developmental role.
We look to this Assembly to make clear the distinction between the immediate interventions we need to address areas of crisis and the more fundamental measures we must put in place to ensure sustained and sustainable progress.
In charting the way forward, it is essential that we consider the path we have traversed since the advent of democratic local government.
We should recall the spatial absurdity of the apartheid state, which relegated the majority of South Africa’s people to the margins of cities and towns and farming areas, leaving them without rights, without land, without assets and without opportunities.
In designing our democratic local government system, we sought to overcome the severe inequality of apartheid geography.
We sought to establish cohesive, viable municipalities that would bridge the divide between privilege and deprivation; municipalities that would contribute to the creation of the united South Africa that we seek.
We sought to establish municipalities that would be effective instruments of development and transformation.
Even as we confront enormous challenges in local government, we must acknowledge that it has improved the lives of millions of our people.
We have made remarkable strides in meeting the basic needs of the residents of our cities and towns and rural areas.
There are few other countries in the world that, in less than 25 years, could have provided over 4.7 million housing opportunities for the poor.
Few other countries in the world have managed such a dramatic expansion in the provision of services like electricity, water and sanitation in such a relatively short period of time.
In each of these instances, progress has depended not only on effective local government, but on the ability of municipalities to work with other spheres of government, parastatals and other state institutions.
Our vision for local government extends far beyond the efficient delivery of basic services.
It extends beyond building houses, connecting lights and water, and collecting refuse.
It requires the fundamental transformation of the spaces where our people live and work.
We seek municipalities – in metros, cities, towns and rural areas – whose central purpose is to enable job creation, sustainable livelihoods and successful human settlements.
We seek municipalities that work with each other and with other spheres of government as dynamic implementing agents of the National Development Plan.
We seek municipalities that understand the shifting social and economic landscape of our country and plan accordingly.
Over the last two decades, we have witnessed significant movements of people into cities and metros, and even into some rural towns.
We know that around 65% of South Africans live in urban areas, and that this is expected to rise to about 70% by 2030.
This poses both great challenges and great opportunities.
We know that it is easier and cheaper to deliver better services in urban settings.
Greater concentrations of knowledge, skills, ideas and labour encourage economic growth and social development.
At the same time, a significant influx of people – most of whom are poor and unskilled – place a significant strain on infrastructure, services and social cohesion.
The growth of informal settlements in most urban centres is testimony to the rate of urbanisation and the inability of our cities and towns to respond effectively.
In some of the larger metropolitan areas, health facilities and schools are overwhelmed, criminality is rife, housing is scarce and – despite the progress made – millions go without even the most basic services.
This dire situation underscores the necessity of effective integrated urban planning which draws together the capabilities and resources of all spheres of government and relevant agencies.
Mechanisms like the Integrated Urban Development Framework are therefore critical for the achievement of sustainable and predictable development.
Through better data collection and management – and the deployment of big data analysis – government at all levels should be better able to design, plan and manage development.
As we respond to the challenges of cities and towns, we need to invest resources and effort into revitalising rural areas and developing rural economies.
Rural areas need to be places where young people see opportunities, where they can acquire and use skills, and where they can find jobs.
This is among the reasons that we have embarked on a process of accelerated land reform to unlock the agricultural potential of our land and thereby unleash the potential of our people.
It is significant that in the economic stimulus and recovery plan that we announced in September, much of the reprioritised spending went towards agriculture and economic activity in rural areas.
Appreciating the massive potential for job creation in agriculture, we identified a package of support measures for black commercial farmers and innovative funding models.
We announced the revitalisation of industrial parks in township and rural areas and the establishment of a township and rural entrepreneurship fund.
Local government is vital to ensuring that these measures succeed not only in stimulating economic activity in the immediate term, but also that they form part of the long-term development plans of these areas.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Earlier this year, we announced an ambitious drive to mobilise $100 billion in new investment over five years.
We have already made important progress, most notably through the inaugural South Africa Investment Conference in October.
While much of the investment promotion effort requires policy certainty and an improved national regulatory environment, it is at local level where the real difference can be made.
Investors build their factories and mines, warehouses and call centres in municipalities.
They look to the municipalities to provide electricity, water and other services reliably and consistently.
They look to municipalities to be efficient in issuing permits and predictable in the enforcement of regulations and by-laws.
Not only do municipalities need to create a hospitable environment for greater investment, but they also need to make better use of the resources they have.
We need to make use of neglected infrastructure, ensure that it is rehabilitated and effectively maintained.
It is far cheaper to invest in infrastructure maintenance than to build new infrastructure, yet we continue to produce grand plans for new projects while so much of what we have is idle or in a state of disrepair.
This requires more than just a budget reprioritisation.
It requires a fundamental mindshift among political leaders, managers, engineers and funders who would rather be seen opening a new bridge than repairing the cracks in the old one.
If we accept that all economic development is local, then the role of municipalities in promoting investment and job creation is vital.
Municipalities need to forge partnerships with business, organised labour and civil society to mobilise local resources and ensure collaboration on investment plans.
They need to pay particular attention to the creation of jobs and training opportunities for young people.
They need to use their procurement spend to increase local production and encourage the growth of SMMEs and cooperatives.
This requires, among other things, cities and towns look beyond their municipal boundaries to opportunities for regional economic integration.
Economic activity does not necessarily adhere to the determinations of the Demarcation Board.
Where there is a significant flow of labour and goods between adjacent municipalities, there is a strong case for far closer collaboration and integration.
Transport networks should be an important area of cooperation between municipalities, complimenting more integrated residential, industrial and commercial development.
While we have made much progress, we need to improve the alignment of housing provision with other public investments and service provision, including schools and health facilities.
Ladies and gentlemen,
If we are to realise our vision of developmental local government, we need to fundamentally reconfigure our approach to inter-governmental relations.
The NDP argues that we should not try to find new structural arrangements, which can be destabilising, but rather identify and resolve specific coordination problems.
This could include mediating agreements between district and local municipalities where there is conflict over the allocation of responsibilities and resources.
It could also include developing regional service providers where municipalities cannot secure the expertise to provide services themselves.
The approach that is being taken by national government, and specifically by COGTA, in supporting local government is guided in large measure by these recommendations in the NDP.
A great deal of effort and resources are being dedicated to building local government capacity, which is welcome and needs to be intensified.
Experience tells us, however, that capacity cannot be imposed from above; it is most effective when built from within.
Municipalities need, for example, to be making use of advances in information and technology to improve their efficiency, effectiveness and impact.
They need to keep up with international innovation in transport, energy and other areas of technological advancement to ensure that services can be provided more cheaply and more efficiently.
In the context of economic scarcity, municipalities need to engineer their systems and processes to use resources more responsibly and more efficiently.
The transformation of local government is critically dependent on improving the skills base of local government.
Municipalities struggle to attract and retain a high calibre of appropriately skilled people.
The NDP suggests the introduction of mechanisms to improve the recruitment of graduates, including through a nationally coordinated programme, and the standardisation of remuneration levels to help municipalities with fewer resources to retain vital skills.
As we fundamentally transform the spaces where people live and work, we need to ensure local government is a real instrument for people’s power.
Residents need to be actively involved in decisions about their ward, zone, town or city.
They need to be part of the planning and design of interventions.
They need to be consulted and their feedback needs to be heard and considered.
If local government is to succeed, it needs effective leadership.
It needs mayors and councillors that inspire confidence, that are respected in communities, and that have a clear vision.
Local government needs leaders within the council and within the administration who are not corrupt, who do not dispense patronage and who will not tolerate the theft or wastage of public resources.
Those we are corrupt must be removed from their positions and must face the full might of the law.
As a country, we have embarked on a path of growth, renewal and rebuilding.
We have made important progress over the last few months, but there is much further to go and much more work to do.
We need to restore the credibility of our public institutions.
We need to root out corruption and end state capture.
We need to restore our economy to growth, attract far greater levels of investment and create jobs on a massive scale.
None of this will be possible without local government.
We therefore look to you – the members of SALGA – to give meaning and effect to the new dawn that the South African people need and deserve.
I thank you.