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SALGA launches an exploratory study conducted on the impact of intimidation and political driven killings have on Local Governance and Service Delivery

Posted: 12 October 2017


JOHANNESBURG. The intimidation and killing of Councillors and Municipal Managers remain a grave concern to the local government sector, the seriousness of which cannot be overemphasized. The reality on the ground demands action -- swift action -- to protect democracy, preserve institutions, prevent further instability, address the root causes of the situation and forge a durable solution.  Not only does this form of systemic violence pose a challenge to the local processes and institutions of democracy, it is severe enough to negatively influence service delivery and has a potential to reverse the gains of local government achieved over the last 17 years of local government.

Action is required to protect democracy  
SALGA convened this Panel Discussion on the intimidation and killing of Councillors and Municipal Managers on Thursday, 12 October 2017, at the Radisson Blu Gautrain Hotel, Sandton. The panel will continue to explore the theme of the impact violence and intimidation has on Local Governance and Service Delivery.  SALGA conducted an exploratory study to determine the extent to which Councillors and Municipal Managers experience violence and intimidation. The study was a response to SALGA’s growing concern over the on-going killing of its members. SALGA wanted to understand what it could do to further support/protect its members.

The killing of councillors and candidate councillors in the country is alarming. SALGA’s own preliminary investigations indicate that it is not only KwaZulu-Natal province, which is being plagued by political killings and councillor assassinations. It is a nationwide occurrence that occurs everywhere in different intensities. While there are a number of causes underlying the councillor assassinations, the killings themselves are preceded by intimidation, which takes the form of threats towards the persons, property, and families of sitting councillors. This has a debilitating effect on the capacity of councillors to perform their roles as community representatives and causes many to refuse nomination for second terms and beyond. The loss of experience from the public system of representation has a potential to undermine service delivery and to affect communities in many adverse ways, including the loss of trust in their system of public representation.
The system of Local Government in the Republic of South Africa was designed to ensure that public participation was placed in the centre of local development.

Disturbing Emerging Trends
There is a significant number of disturbing emerging trends that must be noted. The first of which is the high number of resignations among Councillors and Municipal Managers. Only 30% of all councillors return to the office for further terms while the average Municipal Manager only serves an average of 3.3 years of a five-year contract period. While there are many forces, which can come into play, intimidation of Councillors and Municipal Managers cannot be ruled out as a source of their brief periods of tenure.
Similarly, when Municipal Managers are intimidated or killed, the instability for local government is of concern. While we are careful not to instrumentalise the murder of Municipal Managers, the fact is that Municipal Managers are skilled administrators, 60% or more possessing Masters or Ph.D. level education, often with years of experience. If they are murdered or forced out of Local Government by intimidation from criminal elements, that experience is lost to the sector, with severe consequences for Local Government’s service delivery programmes.
The second disturbing trend is that of killings, assassinations and overall use of violence to achieve private ends. Councillors and Municipal Managers have reported numerous threats directed towards their lives, families, and property. The sustained intimidation and seemingly arbitrary killings of those in service to communities and local government is not simply a localised issue limited to one province. It is a lived experience of a number of Councillors and Municipal Managers, and their families, from around the country. South Africans cannot allow this scourge to remain unpunished or we risk promoting a form of governance that is not bound by rules and does not represent or act on behalf of the people.

The long-term effects devastating
South Africans need to be morally outraged over this issue of councillor and municipal manager killings. And the outrage should not be singularly over the killing of a human being but also as an assault to the fight against poverty alleviation and service delivery. The effects of high turnover rates among councillors and municipal managers, or their killing, might not be direct and immediate. The long-term effects will, however, be felt by everyone.
High-risk professions or positions will struggle to be filled as trained professionals and candidate public representatives might not see the value of contesting for high-risk occupations that may become inherent to local public service. As more skills vacate the sector, service delivery will suffer, nurturing community discontent, feeding an un-virtuous cycle of systemic local government stress.

Active citizenry required

Democracy relies on ordinary citizens taking responsibility for their actions and on a moral majority to steady the ship of state. There needs to be an urgent public discussion on what it means to be an active citizen and what price is acceptable for our inaction. If we cannot address this particular issue of public representative killings, and murder in all its forms, we will not be able to claim any moral victories for anything we do or have done as a nation.
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