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How can we keep local government accountable?

By Annisa Essack

The Jamiatul Ulama South Gauteng branch together with Radio Islam International and Nurul Islam hosted a civil society meeting held at the Nurul Islam Hall, in Gauteng, on Wednesday, 23rd June 2022

“How can we keep local government accountable” was the topic under discussion, facilitated by Ml. Sulaiman Ravat who is a member of Jamiatul Ulama. Organisations and role players in Lenasia were allowed to make presentations on the topic.

The last meet was held in March 2020, which was facilitated by Ml. Ravat and he reminded the audience that there had been a strong request from the community then, to bring the different organisations and forums playing a role in community development under an umbrella body. The idea as he explained was, “to work with a greater cohesion and a greater synergy, whilst they maintained their respective identities and independence.”

That meeting concluded with the suggestion that each organisation would brainstorm and reflect on the issues before returning to the next meeting with ideas and solutions.

He also addressed the idea many people tended to associate with meetings – nothing but another talk shop that nothing comes from it. However, he did also enlighten the audience about how a change in one’s mindset can bring a different perspective and he also alluded to the fact that communities should talk to each other rather than at each other to gain better insight into the community, its needs, and resolutions to issues.

Ward 9 councillor Imraan Moosa spoke about the limitations and challenges of a ward councillor.

Moosa began his speech by saying that the government had failed the community, “this is the truth and the reality of the situation on the ground.” To tackle the sense of helplessness citizens felt as the corruption and mismanagement leave people feeling let down, he said, “We need from complacency, complaints and lethargy to a better and positive mindset.”

Speaking on the duties of a councillor, Moosa said, “a councillor must report service delivery issues but ultimately he is not responsible for physically implementing service delivery.”

He concluded by saying, “We need to make our voices heard to bring about change and make a difference and become more proactive and not have a defeatist attitude,”

Funeka Manzi while outlining the aims and objects of the Action for Accountability project  said: “The goal is to strengthen citizens’ actions to enhance accountability and engagement with local governance challenges.”

The project is being piloted in four South African communities: Lenasia, Mondeor, Finetown and Makhanda.

It is a project co-funded by the European Union and implemented by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Accountability Lab South Africa and the Public Services Accountability Monitor.

Citizens volunteer and are trained to use social accountability monitoring and social auditing tools, like survey data, making it a platform for communities to discuss and find solutions.

Manzi explained the goals including increasing citizen participation beyond voting, people becoming in budgeting processes and the IDP. Other goals involve building trust between citizens and leaders.

The civic action platform has three ways in which can participate – civic action teams are groups compromised of volunteer groups that discuss issues affecting communities, the Community Frontline Associates are data collectors, and the third programme is the activist media incubator responsible for training people in the use of social media tools to provide feedback from the data collated.

Zarina Motala, the communicator facilitator from Ward 9 for Action For Accountability, explained that the organisation would be collaborating with the councillor and the ward community and she urged citizens, particularly the youth, to get involved.

She further iterated that the project, co-funded by the EU would be run for 3 years and could be extended in Gauteng and other areas in the country.

Mickey Padayachee, in his independent capacity, provided feedback on the developments in the different regions and began by explaining how local government is divided and the role played by each division.

Region G, with a population of 1.2 million, with informal and formal settlements with 44 informal settlements and the region only contributed 3% to the GDP of the City of Johannesburg.

On the projects that were being managed, Padayachee, began with the R 280 million, turnkey project in Orange Farm, which lacked roads, housing, and infrastructure, which would allow for the community to see more positive development.

Moving on to Lenasia, he touched on the development of the taxi rank, the scholar exchange for which the report is almost completed. Regarding the homeless shelter, Padayachee explained that a budget had been allocated but the shelter would have to be relocated outside of Lenasia.
He informed the meeting that almost all projects implemented for Lenasia had been blocked citing that this may be due to resistance from the city which left them uncertain as to how to move forward.

On the IDP, he clarified the mechanisms used for consultation with the community to ascertain the needs, collaboration in the budgeting and policymaking and the newly developed ward committees. These make the environment structurally sound for community participation whilst also holding local government accountable.

Padayachee brought forth an important challenge for communities, the creation of activists who will engage robustly with local government.

On the subject of safety and gated communities, Padayachee elucidated the plan for safety in region G which will map out a plan for safety in all communities. Further to the safety plan, the transportation master plan was almost completed and highlights the different aspects of transport for the area, an urban development framework was in the works together with an economical plan. All these would assist in creating a platform that will allow the community’s participation.

Speaking on behalf of the Lenasia Business Forum, Muhammed Salajee, expounded on how businesses were affected by the degeneration of the Lenasia CBD and the economic decline of Region G, the closure of the Lenasia Level Crossing. Regarding the relocation of the taxi rank, he opined that the money could have been better spent on upgrading the ailing infrastructure instead. He further cited other issues that were impacting the expansion of formal trade and said that the City of Johannesburg’s position to care for Lenasia and grow its economy is questionable.

Salejee maintains, “Lenasia CBD Hub is the economic zone and catalyst for the entire of Region G but instead has no support from local government to uplift the region.”

He questioned the excuse given by the local government that the budget allocation for Lenasia was insufficient and further requested the use of taxes paid by the citizens and how it was being spent.

He said, “Unless we don’t have a blueprint for all allocations, how will we ever know if the budget allocation is sufficient or falls well short of the budget for the area and region itself.”

He also called for monthly reports providing feedback on the several issues faced by the region, public meetings with the various sectors and MMCs from the nine allocated portfolios must visit and engage with the ward and public regularly.

Salejee concluded by urging all role players in Lenasia to make the time and effort to hold local government officials accountable.

“The best way for us to do this is to work together. Remember that unity is strength.” Were his parting words.

Imraan Seedat spoke on behalf of the Lenasia’s Residents Association and concurred with Salajee, especially where taxes paid by some are being used on non-paying tax citizens.

Seedat clarified that the Constitution did not address accountability regarding those in office who failed the citizens of the country. The Residents Association, in its 18-year history, has been trying to change the Constitution which protects the government thus we are unable to hold legislation or group from the government accountable.

Seedat says that people lose hope and become frustrated with meetings, and it was therefore imperative for the government to be held accountable by the community ensuring that there were repercussions for not delivering on what citizens pay for.

Holding police accountable, was the task given to Sgt. Bafana Ndimande. He enlightened the meeting regarding the high volume of crime in the region particularly carjackings and attacks on hair salons and surgeries.

After explaining the modus operandi of the hijackers, he proceeded to provide tips on how to prevent hijackings saying that it was better to be safe than sorry.

Further to the tips provided, he updated the numbers being used by the SAPS in the region, (011) 213 6045/6046/6057 and the number (071) 675 6582 which would route directly to the Relief Commander.

Sgt. Ndimande added that should citizens not be happy with the service provided by the SAPS in the area, they should obtain the police officer’s name and badge number and report to the office of the station commander or IPID who will investigate the claim.

The last speaker, Ismail Vadi, spoke on how citizens could become involved in holding the government responsible.

He pointed out the “high levels of frustration, despair, dissatisfaction and weariness” which saw protests that were more violent and destructive of public infrastructure which was self-defeating.

According to Vadi, Lenasians were not actively participating and involved and there was no coordinated civil society forum that would take up issues of the community as a whole. This was an important area that needed to be further looked at.

He highlighted further that political parties were losing their currency which meant that independent civil society activism that was coordinated was the direction for citizens of Lenasia to look at.

Vadi also brought forth the fact that the community was busy putting out fires and had not developed a common developmental vision.

He also highlighted that the civil service needed to be turned around as communities had limited resources and also asked that local media that had a voice, and a platform should use these instruments creatively and effectively.

The community was allowed to question the speakers as well as provide their suggestions and opinions.

A highly productive meeting that saw a request for the Jamiatul Ulema to organize further meetings with all the community to continue the engagement and ultimately find constructive solutions.

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