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When opening and setting the scene of the 2018 National Council of Provinces’ (NCOP’s) Local Government Week, NCOP Chairperson Ms Thandi Modise referred to the increasing land invasions that confront the South African state and highlighted the unacceptable violent nature of such land invasions.

“As gathered here today, we are confronted with the increasing number of land invasions. The recent one over the weekend being in Protea Glen in Soweto, which spilled over till yesterday. We have also noticed such protests all over the country. What we also noticed is the violent nature of these protests. She said since the advent of democracy, the government is confronted with challenges such as spatial, economic and social transformation, economic growth and economic inclusion.

According to Ms Modise, these inherited challenges have, over the years, been compounded by other emerging local challenges, such as rapid urbanisation and the associated demographic changes; the increased demand for local service delivery and accompanying increased social discontent, unrest and contestation; the persistence of vested interests; financial austerity, fiscal constraints and the slow pace of social and economic transformation.

“We also know that due to the pressures of urbanisation our municipalities, especially those in the metros and cities, are the targets. We have the population inflow in the cities which results in affordable housing failing to meet the demand. We also know that the municipalities are burdened when it comes to the pressures to provide services as a result of this growing population. These we know affect the planning and the provision of sufficient supply of affordable housing,” emphasised Ms Modise.

Ms Modise urged all the cooperative governance role players to be more alive in cooperative governance and plan better and differently to keep challenges less. She said despite the many challenges confronting the local government sphere, “we commend Salga for the initiative and interventions it has shown in tackling issues facing the local government sector. Salga is at the forefront in seeking solutions to these challenges”.

Ms Modise located the challenges of human settlements in a historical context. She said human beings have always been motivated to move about in search of better land, better resources and better opportunities. “Mobility is mankind’s oldest and most successful poverty fighter to make the poor richer, and the rich even richer still by spreading wealth, trade and expertise that benefit all of us,” she stressed.

Referring to the National Development Plan, she said it envisages a future in which “we have created a home where everybody feels free yet bound to others; where everyone embraces their full potential. We are looking at a South Africa where we say we are proud to be a community that cares”.

Ms Modise also reminded the delegates about the fact that in 2015, the United Nations adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed at ending poverty, fighting inequality and injustice, and tackling climate change by 2030. Goal 11 of the SDGs is: “Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.

Also, she said the African Union Agenda 2063 recognises that “cities and other settlements are hubs of cultural and economic activities, with modernised infrastructure, and people have access to affordable and decent housing including housing finance together with all the basic necessities of life such as water, sanitation, energy, public transport and ICT (information and communications technology)”.

One of Agenda 2063’s key objectives is to “provide opportunities for all Africans to have decent and affordable housing in clean, secure and well planned environments”.

She said Salga’s representative role in the NCOP completes the fundamental make-up of the House as the only institution within South Africa’s constitutional construct that brings representatives of the three spheres of government under one roof. “This is important for promoting the adherence to the principles of cooperative government and intergovernmental relations contained in Chapter 3 of the Constitution.” 

According to Ms Modise, in the 5th Parliament they adopted Intergovernmental Relations and Cooperative Government as an overarching strategic injunction for this term of Parliament, informing all the business of the House.

“This week we are aiming at providing an opportunity for national reflection on issues affecting local government, in order to improve the lives of South Africans through accelerated service delivery,” she said.

The NCOP is hosting Local Government Week this week under the theme: “Land Use and Integrated Spatial Planning”.

Also making opening remarks at the event, the President of the South African Local Government Association (Salga), Mr Parks Tau, described the NCOP as a pinnacle in the South African system of cooperative governance. He said the NCOP is the only institution in South Africa’s constitutional construct that plays an integrative role, bringing representatives of the three spheres of government together under one roof within the legislative sector.

The Local Government Week, Mr Tau said, is one of the key mechanisms established by the NCOP to dedicate time to focus exclusively on local government. “It is set aside to engender the principles of cooperative governance and intergovernmental relations in dealing with matters affecting the local sphere of government. We hope that the discussions of the next three days will provide an opportunity to propose lasting, practical and sustainable solutions,” said Mr Tau.

Mr Tau said they trust that the Local Government Week platform offered by the NCOP will also offer a platform to mobilise all the three spheres of government to plan together, implement jointly, and monitor in harmony the urgent matter of land use management and spatial planning.

According to Mr Tau, the retired Deputy Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, Mr Dikgang Moseneke, counsels: “The fact is that we have land inequality and land injustice in this country, and we have to look it in the face and find practical steps to make sure that there is a greater spread, access and use of land in a sensible and smart way.”

Mr Tau said at the local government sphere, which is the coalface of basic service delivery and realisation of public goods, land use and spatial planning, literally defines “our mandate and raison d'être”.

“As such, as Salga we welcome public, legal and parliamentary discussions on linking the spatial transformation agenda with tangible empowerment of municipalities to comprehensively address challenges of development, access and opportunities to services, urban inclusivity and better resource allocation,” emphasised Mr Tau.

He said inclusive spatial planning or transformation talks about greater inclusion of groups to redress apartheid segregation and equitable resource flows in basic services. The role of local government in actualising these common goods is seminal if it is premised on planning efficiency and fiscal equity.    

On fiscal transformation, Mr Tau said Salga continues to advocate for an equitable fiscal dispensation that is considerate of the assigned mandate and the many responsibilities undertaken by local government. “The as yet unresolved issue of Powers and Functions continues to frustrate municipalities as it is upon its resolution that issues of the fiscal framework, the unfunded mandates and the revenue instruments of municipalities (especially districts) could be resolved.

“We do need to find urgent alternative interventions in this area so that we don’t undermine economic turnaround through unwisely measures in dealing with grants underspending.”

Mr Tau said most concerning is also the sufficiency of the two main trading services – electricity and water. “Can these two trading services still provide surplus funds for municipalities? If not, what then are the other sources of revenue from which municipalities can cross-subsidise other services?” he asked.

The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Dr Zweli Mkhize, who also made opening remarks during the opening of the Local Government Week, assured delegates that the second phase of the Back to Basics Programme of his department is aimed at addressing the challenges that face local governments. “The programme is certainly going to take local government to the higher developmental trajectory,” he emphasised.

Dr Mkhize reminded the delegates that apartheid used vicious methods such as pass laws to control the movement of South Africans in search of economic opportunities. The democratic government can’t apply such undemocratic measures in dealing with problems such as land invasions. He said the practical and the way to avoid land invasions is to be proactive in finding land for human settlements, as people will continue to move from rural areas in search of economic opportunities in urban areas.

By Mava Lukani
8 May 2018