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Ensure your councillor delivers
Get involved and stay involved
Voting in the local government elections is only the first step in ensuring a people-centred local government which delivers the services your community needs. A more difficult and ongoing process is ensuring that those voted into power deliver on what they have promised.
Monitor how your councillor is performing
South Africa does not have a formal recall mechanism. In some other countries, it is possible to end a councillor’s term of office simply by collecting enough signatures from local voters in support of a recall petition. While this is not possible in South Africa, you are not powerless and can take actions to ensure councillors fulfill their election promises.
Find out the following:
- Is your councillor prepared to put promises in writing?
- Is your councillor vague on when things will be delivered, or do they commit to delivering specific things by a set date?
- Has your councillor delivered on key demands? If not, are they able to give good reasons for not having delivered?
- Does your councillor engage with your community to identify issues of concern
- Does your councillor convey community concerns, issues and decisions to the municipal council and officials?
- Does your councillor regularly feed information back to the community on the state of affairs of the municipality, including its finances?
Remember: If a councillor does not deliver, you can demand and campaign that they resign. The resignation of a ward councillor will result in a by-election which will give you another chance to make sure the candidates take your demands seriously. A PR councillor is simply replaced using the party list. In this case, demand that the party consults with your community before simply appointing another councillor.
Attend council meetings
People have a right to attend most council meetings. Use this to ensure that council operates in a transparent manner. Municipal council and its committees must open their meetings to the public when they concern the following:
- service delivery agreements
- the budget
- any by-law
- any amendment to the Integrated Development Plan
- a performance management system or its amendment. (s. 160 (4) of the Constitution; s. 19 of the Municipal Systems Act)
The municipal manager must notify the public of the time, date and place of every ordinary meeting as well as any special or urgent meeting of the council. The exception is if matters under discussion are so urgent that it is not possible to notify the public. Council may conduct closed meetings in other circumstances only where it is reasonable to do so. The criteria under which a meeting can be closed must be set out in a by-law.
Although the committees of the municipal council must also be open, there is no requirement in the law to notify the public of committee meetings. This makes it difficult to participate. Contact your councillor or the chair of the committee (or the portfolio head) to find out when and where committee meetings will be held on issues that concern you. Let them know if you require assistance such as transport, childcare, or interpretation in order to participate.
Corruption in local government
In 2011 the Institute for Democracy in Africa (Idasa) conducted a citizen-satisfaction survey of adult South African residents in 21 municipalities in Mpumalanga, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and North West. The report found that most people were not happy with their councillors – “66% of the respondents think that government staff and councillors benefit privately in a dishonest manner from resources intended for service delivery...”
(Source: Idasa, The State of Local Governance from a Citizen Perspective,2011, p.32)