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“SALGA’s determination to establish transformed and well-governed local government remains robust; one that will stimulate growth and reignite societal well-being in a post-COVID future,” Thembi Nkadimeng, ex-President of SALGA, now Deputy Minister of CoGTA

The South African Local Government Association (SALGA), one of the unique children of a democratic South Africa celebrates 25 years since its birth in November 1996 with jubilation and with angst. It has been two-and-a-half decades of great achievement in the unchartered waters of a democratic local government in the country whilst facing storms of unparalleled challenges; and the voyage continues! The organization was brought into existence by the country’s constitution at a time when South Africa was trying to understand and interpret the very constitution that SALGA was being anchored on. Moreover local government had existed prior to SALGA’s birth, but it was governed and coordinated by fragmented institutions that only served the privileged few in apartheid South Africa.

Each of the four pre-1994 provinces had a local government association. These associations were based on the apartheid segregation policies and were organized as follows;

• The Transvaal Municipal Association;

• The Cape Province Municipal Association;

• The Orange Free State Municipal Association; and

• The Natal Municipal Association.

The structure was not just fragmented, but it was also steeped into a deep racial culture that ignored the greater need outside of the “formal towns”. What made amalgamation of the structure challenging was that this had to be done within the confines of a negotiated settlement. Hence local government was one of the issues negotiated in Codessa 1 & 2 in the 1990s.

Mr Zamindlela Titus, Lead ANC Technical Negotiator at CODESA described it aptly when he said: “In 1992 we then met at CODESA 1 and 2 after whose collapse we had the negotiation forum. At the first instance, we had to say to ourselves: what type of South Africa do we need? [The intent was that…] even if we have not done anything that is visible to South Africans, at least we need to identify what it is that we ought to do to demonstrate to all and sundry that we are serious about change. We then said let us start by de-racialising local government because we had a local government system which was racially based. We said, then, even before we start the negotiations process beyond September 1992, let us agree on the de-racialisation of local government, the government sphere that is closest to the people. That led to the enactment of the Local Government Transition Act.”

The South African Local Government Association (SALGA) was formed to create a national umbrella for all municipalities from one corner of South Africa to another. Whilst this was happening, the number of municipalities had to be reduced from over 1 000 to under 800 and later to about 284, in nine provinces, which meant re-demarcation of municipal boundaries, reallocation and relocation of assets and resources whilst managing constitutionally binding elections every five years – transformation. Now SALGA’s members comprise 205 Local Municipalities, 44 District Municipalities and Eight (8) Metropolitan Municipalities or Metros.

Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, ex-Mayor of Tshwane aptly put it when he said; “Local government entered a new era with the adoption of the Constitution. For the first time in our history, a wall-to-wall local government system was introduced.”

Poverty, unemployment, patchy development and inequality have remained constant devastating companions of a local government sector from whom populations have expected some form of succor and hope in their difficult circumstances.

The “new” municipalities had to operate in sync in order to deliver equitable services from border to border across the country. This invariably included delivery of services in areas previously excluded. To achieve this SALGA was appointed and mandated in line with section 3(3) of the Municipal Systems Act to be the inter-governmental representative of local government in all platforms with a clear objective to promote cooperative governance.

SALGA was established by means of a founding statement in November of 1996. It was set up as a voluntary association to represent all the nine provincial local government associations. In January 1997, the Minister of Constitutional Development recognised SALGA as the national organisation representing local government, as per section 2(1) of the Organised Local Government Act, 1997 (No. 52 of 1997). Since its founding, the organisation has been shaped by councilors who constitute the Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) and the National Executive Committee (NEC).

The Association’s institutional framework has undergone tremendous transformation from this initial establishment. This was achieved through painstaking engagements, lobbying, negotiations and partnerships. The key milestones in this journey from its formation were its promulgation in 1998 as the National Organization for Local Government in South Africa, and in 2002 SALGA was listed as a Schedule 3A public entity in terms of the Public Finance Management Act 1 of 1999.

SALGA had to deal with one major challenge whilst driving the Transformation of Local Government; the practical implementation of the unification of the old provincial structures. SALGA was originally framed as what could be described as a “federated body operating in all spheres of governance”. Each of the provincial bodies operated as an independent entity governed by its own constitution. The practical issues of representing the sector as a unified voice necessitated a rethink on how the organization operated.

It was not until 2011 that all the provincial municipal bodies were unified and joined SALGA. Local Government completed its first Strategic Plan as a unified body under SALGA in 2012.

The adopted strategy and constitution had an added focus and mandate to increase the role of women in local government. This included striving for parity (50%) of representation in governance structures (section 3.8), which was derived from South Africa’s signatory status to the Beijing Platform for Action and the Convention to End Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The drive towards gender parity had always been a practice in the organisation, this addition now placed a constitutional responsibility on SALGA to ensure that its governance structures (the National Executive Committee, Provincial Executive Committees and working groups) are representative of women to the desired extent (50%).

This increased the mandates of SALGA to include;

• Ensuring the full participation of women in organised local government, including striving for parity (50%) of representation in its governance structures;

• Increasing knowledge-sharing and improve the communications capacity as well as vertical and horizontal connectivity of organised local government and municipalities; and

• Ensuring that South African local government plays a critical role in furthering Africa’s development at regional, continental and international levels.

SALGA’s engagement with various arms of national government, mainly with COGTA helped to establish better autonomy for local government and minimized the encroachment national government on municipal competences. This has improved role clarification between the various arms of government, despite SALGA’s own challenges with unity of its members. Local Government Week which was initiated by SALGA in partnership with the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) has become a feature in the calendar of government and governance practitioners. In the first local government week, issues around the alignment and coordination of planning and budgets between the three spheres of government were made visible. Administration and political will were identified as major issues while peer learning was identified as a major change lever for service delivery.

The local government week format raised awareness of what all spheres of government need to do collectively to bring about improvements in service delivery outcomes.

Subsequent local government weeks have addressed municipal financial performance, devolution of functions to support service subsidiarity and public participation. There have been consistent attempts to address these issues by putting the right frameworks in place, particularly around spatial management and urbanisation. SALGA assisted individual municipalities to begin to streamline their revenue stream by negotiating and reaching a Memorandum of Understanding with Eskom, the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) and the Water Bodies. More was achieved as a collective as would have been possible for individual municipalities.

Post-unification of local government associations under SALGA in 2011 assisted in achieving better results for municipalities together. In 2014 the Association worked with the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in building technical skills in the waste management sector through the development of formal qualifications on waste management.

The SALGA Centre for Leadership and Governance (SCLG) introduced and got buy in on a development agenda in Local Government through active reflection and thought leadership programmes in 2016 to 2017. In the 2017/18 financial year, SALGA’s Collective Bargaining Strategy was developed and approved for negotiations at the South African Local Government Bargaining Council (SALGBC) by its governance structures. Consequently SALGA supported, advised and represented over 100 municipalities on various labour relations matters.

The benefits of SALGA working with local government as a collective have stretched beyond the borders of South Africa and the continent as demonstrated by the Association’s relationship with the Association of Flemish Cities and Municipalities (VVSG), its counterpart based in Brussels, Belgium. SALGA has entered into a cooperation agreement on environmental management with the VVSG to the benefit of all its members.

“The constitutional basis on which SALGA was formed and is entrenched is remarkable,” says Karlie Jorgensen, Director of Municipal Development Cooperation of VVSG. “This has led to the formation of an independent professional organization of which we are proud to have partnered with,” she adds.

The association played a key role for municipalities as an Employer Body for all local government. For example, there were multiple worker representation formations operating in each sector of the metropolitan municipalities. As local government developed a common approach to labour relations commensurate to the reforms occurring in the local government sector, SALGA joined the National Bargaining Council as an employer body and began to negotiate on behalf of the sector. Prior to this, each province was highly fragmented and bargaining took place at separate localities.

The employer-body role did not apply to bargaining only, but to skills development. As a part of skills development initiatives, SALGA has supported gender equality and ensured that the mainstreaming of gender has occurred by establishing the SALGA Women’s Commission as well as by means ofensuring that the staff composition of the organisation is representative of the nation’s gender policy intentions. Gender has been promoted at every level, from the local and provincial level through the Provincial Women in Local Government and the United Cities of Local Government (UCLG).

The Association has also played a pivotal role as advisor to municipalities and sharing knowledge on science-based approaches to addressing the challenges facing individual municipalities. That has included financial management down to environmental and waste management. As a result over 4 000 officials and over 3 000 councillors benefitted from SALGA’s capacity building programmes, while 1 090 benefitted from continuous development programmes.

“SALGA is not just celebrating 25 years of democratic local government, but it also marks 25 years as an independent institution that works with all political organisations but remains autonomous to deliver efficient local government throughout the country,” says Mr Risenga Maluleka, Statistician General of Stats SA. “We have worked closely with the association to ensure that they have accurate information to deliver services and support our country’s development,” he adds. The institution itself has played an exemplary role in financial management in the local government sphere as demonstrated by SALGA receiving clean audits for eight consecutive years from 2012 to 2020.

In 25 years the baby of democratic South Africa has managed to grow and contribute to the country whilst addressing its own growing-up pangs. Considering that the steps made were in unchartered waters, SALGA has made considerable strides in democratizing local government and entrenching democracy in South Africa.

The mandate of SALGA has been refined to being assisting local government in South Africa and the Continent fulfil its developmental role by;

• Lobbying, Advocacy, Representation

• Capacity Building

• Support, Advice

• Strategic Profiling

• Knowledge/Information-sharing.

“SALGA is the ambassador of local government and like any organization, we need to constantly refresh ourselves, renew ourselves so that our relevance, our reputation and our standing continues to espouse the values of who we are; a progressive force of change in local government,” says Mr Xolile George, CEO of SALGA. “We are at the centre of connecting the three spheres of government; national, provincial and local government.”

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