On March 5 it will be exactly one year since South Africa recorded its first official Covid-19 case. In the haze that has passed since then, all South Africans have been subjected to significant problems that are somewhat unique to the dynamics that drive our economic, political and social issues. Without a doubt, this is holding us back and minimising the opportunities we should be seizing as a country in these trying times. When it comes to the need for greater oversight and pressure to hold those in power to account, the need for an active civil society has never been greater.
Following a few weeks of taking stock of Government’s plans for us in the President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), along with the Minister of Finance’s Budget speech at the end of February, concerns abound at the lack of meaningful initiatives required to stimulate economic growth and tackling corruption. Not to mention the State’s continued obsession with loss making non-core state owned entities.
Almost as if it’s a welcome relief, Government at all levels uses the pandemic as a convenient smokescreen for the country’s woes, deflecting scrutiny of the maladministration, corruption, ineptitude and political factionalism that underpin the real barriers to progress. This is particularly prevalent within our municipalities and metros as councils stave off issues of poor governance and service delivery by hiding behind their computer screens.
TAX REVOLT OR NOT?
Judging from the many engagements with society, the levels of frustration are increasing over the unnecessary decay in financial hygiene related to the expenditure of taxes and levies. This is accompanied by a growing sense of restlessness and an urge to take matters into one’s own hands.
The numerous calls for a fully-fledged tax revolt attracts a lot of attention, and OUTA’s management is kept very busy explaining why a tax revolt at a national level is practically impossible to pull off. Firstly, it will require the participation of big business (who will not go down this road) and secondly, anarchy will prevail in the unlikely that a full-blown national tax revolt can be arranged. Believe me, nobody wants to live in a country where Government has no funds to pay the salaries of the police, teachers, health workers, water infrastructure, import and export processes, state grants, etc.
Tax revolts at a local Government level however, are a completely different kettle of fish, with this rising reality beginning to plague municipalities and metros across the country. Local Government funding - largely derived from residents who pay their property rates and utilities (water, electricity and refuse removal) - is experiencing a rapid rise in payment defaults due either to declining affordability or public defiance campaigns (or a combination of both). It is the latter that is fast becoming the bigger headache for those in authority. Localised civil activism action groups have started taking control of municipal administration, especially when it comes to infrastructure repair and maintenance projects - either through formal court challenges or simply out of desperation - to address that which municipalities have become incapable of doing. (The small town of Koster in the North West is an excellent example.)
Despite the division of power between national, provincial and local governments, the State has a substantive level of oversight, power and influence over our municipalities and metros. But they have been remiss in fulfilling this as they struggle to reign in political delinquents in local government who simply are not interested in serving the interests of their communities.
Whilst our national authorities are acutely aware of the looming problem, they appear to be paralysed or unwilling to act, even as more and more municipalities begin to gather at their bail-out doorstep. More worryingly, this growing problem is not confined to the smaller rural municipalities but has become a significant problem in major cities and metros in South Africa. The stand-off between the public and those in authority within local Government is one the State can no longer afford to ignore.
We at OUTA are acutely aware of these issues and whilst we continue to tackle corruption and maladministration in targeted areas, we are developing meaningful solutions and mechanisms to enable and encourage civil society to address their own issues on a localised basis. This solution-centred approach is designed to empower organised and active civil society associations to address their plight in a constructive manner, as opposed to the destructive fallout that so often prevails in local government. (More about this in the very near future.)
Today, more than ever since the dawn of democracy in South Africa, every citizen needs to become more aware of what is happening in our country and in their communities, along with a greater understanding of their resources, their rights and their collective power to challenge the status quo.
All South Africans must become part of the change they so desperately need to see unfold. The biggest challenge to activate the civil activist in each one of us, is to overcome the disbelieve that we don’t have the time or ability to make a difference. The mere notion and action of supporting organisations that make a meaningful difference in the areas or causes that one cares about, is sufficient active citizenry for change.
In OUTA’s case, it is your contribution within our crowd funded model that adds the fuel to enable our excellent team of investigators, legal project managers, researchers, communications experts and support personnel to do the work we do.
PUT HOPE TO PRACTICAL GOOD
Later this year, local municipal elections will take place across the country. We will see some interesting dynamics aimed at injecting citizens into councils that run our towns and cities, as well as communities that will demand more from their city administrators. Civic-mindedness across all fronts will need to take centre stage, if we are to turn our broken municipalities around.
This is also the year that OUTA will finally lay the Dudu Myeni delinquency order to rest as we tackle her final appeal. Also on our list for 2021 – along with a host of other issues - is the legal challenge to put the AARTO mess on hold.
Thank you again for enabling our work!
Wayne and the OUTA team