Riyaz Patel, Digital Editor
Local government is often viewed as the least glamorous of the three spheres of government, but no less important, as it is a crucial aspect of the process of democratization created to bring government closer to the people; and to give the grass-roots population a sense of involvement in the political processes that control their daily lives.
Unlike the other two spheres – national and provincial, local authorities are created to render services in defined geographical areas, primarily because of the inability of central government to attend, in detail, to all the requirements of society that have to be satisfied by government.
And yet, despite the key role that local government plays, or should play, in South African political life, reportage on local government affairs is often lacking, sparse and confined to scandals and issues of corruption.
With the launch of the new section – Inside Metros today, we at Inside Politic seeks to change this narrative.
Recent digital innovations — including social media platforms have upended how we receive, consume, share, and interpret the news. But what remain a constant, is that far too often, our focus as the media is on the politics rather than the policy!
And, in the context of local government, the third poor cousin in the governing triumvirate, both politics and policy is nascent, or even worse, completely absent from the agenda.
Matuma Letsoalo, Chairman of K&K Media Group, parent company of Inside Politic and Inside Education, said this initiative with its exclusive focus on local government, is long overdue.
“For far too long, this sphere of government has been neglected, or worse, ignored,” adding that Inside Metro, will go a long way in giving a voice to the previously voiceless South Africans,” he said.
With municipalities across the country wielding multi-billion rand budgets and at the coalface of the so-called ‘bread and butter’ issues – provision of basic services such as water, sanitation, roads, lighting, safety and development – issues which are central come elections, it is imperative and incumbent on us to adequately and timely report on these matters if the fourth estate is to fulfil its mandate of holding government to account across all three spheres of government.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, through government’s ‘Khawuleza’ (Hurry up) district-based model, has trumpeted a bold new era of service delivery by placing strong emphasis on this third tier of governance.
‘Khawuleza’ aims to enhance service delivery through the synchronisation of planning across all spheres of government in concert with local communities. Districts will be empowered to initiate and enter into partnerships – to advance effective service delivery – with civil society and the private sector.
“For the first time in democratic South Africa, local government becomes the nucleus of, and for, societal development,” Parks Tau, a Deputy Minister in the the Department of Cooperative Governance (CoGTA), so aptly puts it.
It is indeed a game-changer, as never before have all three spheres of government worked in cooperative unison, effectively “coalescing in their operations and functions in the country’s 44 districts and eight metropolitan areas,” Tau adds.
We, as the media, cannot afford to only focus on this crucial sphere of government when systemic challenges are flagged annually, such as when the auditor general pronounces on municipal underperformance, maladministration, irregular expenditures and at last count, the about 40 municipalities under administration.
We owe it to South Africans to report on this basic framework of government where local public policy is determined, implemented and where we see mass participation in the decision-making process.
Local government should be seen as the cornerstone in the structure of a democratic political system since local government serves as a vehicle for intelligent and responsible citizenship on this particular level.
Never has the need been more urgent for a strong, effective and transparent system of local government in South Africa’s democratic political environment.
And as crucial stakeholders in this democratic process, we through our newly launched Inside Metro section, will strive to monitor and report on whether government is fulfilling its constitutional injunction outlined in Chapter 2 of the Bill of Rights; which is for government to deliver socioeconomic services that enhances, “the right to dignity and the right to equality” of all citizens, residents, economic migrants and political refugees.