The South African Local Government Association (Salga) has issued a warning about the abuse of Section 139 inventions in municipalities for political ends, rather than genuine efforts to improve the delivery of services to the people.

During a recent National Council of Provinces plenary to discuss a notice from the North West Provincial Government to dissolve the Tswaing Local Municipality, Salga contended that the intervention was unnecessary because the municipality’s problems are political.

“We do not believe the decision to dissolve the Tswaing Local Municipality is the right decision. It will not make the problems go away, as the problems are beyond the council itself. We do not support the decision to dissolve the municipality,” said Salga’s Mr Lance Joel.

In a very unusual situation, Tswaing Municipality reportedly has two mayors, two council speakers and two municipal managers. It was mentioned in the Minister of Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs’ report on the state of municipalities as one of 64 municipalities that are riddled with crises and completely dysfunctional.

Councillor Charles Stofile, a Salga national executive committee member, warned that the NCOP should not be used to “rubber stamp incompetencies and wrong things in provincial governments and municipalities”. He also argued that there was no evidence that Tswaing municipality received any form of support from the provincial Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, when it is clear the municipality is struggling.

“The provincial government failed to perform its legal duty to support and interact with that municipality. What was the role of the MEC when some councillors decided to establish another council outside the established council? The political party leading that municipality must resolve that problem. It must not outsource the department to resolve that problem, or to the NCOP,” said Councillor Stofile.

NCOP Delegate Mr Isaac Sileku questioned the timing of the municipality’s dissolution, considering the local government elections scheduled for 1 November. “It doesn’t make sense that 14 days before an election, you dissolve a municipality. Salga tells you it does not make sense and many other stakeholders said the timing is wrong for us to dissolve this municipality. Why is it so difficult for us to allow the elections to take place so that the new council can come in and try to turn things around?” Mr Sileku asked.

He also accused the African National Congress of failing to deal with its councillors in Tswaing, and using legislative processes and the NCOP to deal with its members. “If we continue in this fashion, we are still going to dissolve a lot of municipalities and see zero progress. Some of the issues, if you cannot deal with them in a period of five years, surely you can’t deal with them in a few days before an election?” he argued.

The Chairperson of the select committee, Mr China Dodovu, blamed the Tswaing councillors for the municipality’s problems, saying they have disappointed the people who voted them into office. “They have failed to discharge their mandate; failed to ensure that there is optimum governance and accountable government in the area of Tswaing; failed to ensure there is service delivery; have not ensured accountable government in terms of promoting community public participation. The councillors of Tswaing spent more time fighting amongst themselves,” he pointed out.

Mr Dodovu was also not convinced that the North West provincial government has discharged its responsibilities in terms of supporting the municipality. “I am not convinced that the provincial government made sure that it strengthened the capacity of that municipality to execute its work. And I am also not convinced that the department itself has monitored the performance of the councillors of Tswaing, because if it had done all of these things, it would have long realised that there are serious problems in that municipality. The fact of the matter is that we are dealing here with a municipality that is in deep crisis; there’s no denying,” the Chairperson said.

The committee heard about a total collapse of services at Tswaing, including failure to pay staff medical aid and pension fund contributions, Eskom debt of R54 million, no refuse removal, sewerage flowing in the streets of local towns and townships forcing some businesses to suspend operations.

The NCOP has previously discussed the effectiveness of Section 139, and the fact that it is sometimes used and abused as a political tool to settle scores arising from political instabilities and infighting in municipalities.

Section 139 of the Constitution empowers a provincial government to intervene when a municipality cannot or does not fulfil an executive obligation in terms of the Constitution or legislation. In addition, as part of the intergovernmental support system, the NCOP has to be notified of any province’s intention to implement section 139.

In the end the Select Committee supported the North West provincial government’s decision to dissolve Tswaing Local Municipality.

Sakhile Mokoena
18 October 2021