REPORT BACK – VIRTUAL MEETING OF THE MEC OF COGTA AND CALUSA DELEGATIONS: 11 JUNE 2020
REPORT BACK – VIRTUAL MEETING OF THE MEC OF COGTA AND CALUSA DELEGATIONS: 11 JUNE 2020
The agenda was circulated in the whatsapp groups used by members of the Sakhisizwe Civil Society Structures Forum (Forum) and posted on the CALUSA website.
It was adopted at the meeting with a minor change that the presentation of CALUSA would be in three parts:
- Introducing CALUSA – Prof Lungisile Ntsebeza
- Sakhisizwe Governance Issues – Dr Fani Ncapayi
- Proposals submitted by the Sakhisizwe Civil Society Structures Forum in response to the COVID-19 crisis – Prof Lungisile Ntsebeza
OPENING REMARKS BY MEC NQATA
In his opening remarks, the MEC, Mr Nqata highlighted the following:
- Sakhisizwe Municipality (SM) was in a serious crisis in 2018 leading to a change of the leadership.
- COGTA’s intervention with the purpose of ensuring that the Municipality was functioning. He saw this as an important first step before engaging stakeholders.
- He constantly referred to the above as a “period of renewal” in order to “restore confidence and thrust” in the Municipality officials.
- He was confident, as at 11 June 2020 that there was stability in SM in the sense that meetings are sitting and roles have been defined. He also announced that the issue of the suspended Municipal Manager of SM is on the verge of being resolved.
- A key issue that he felt needed to be addressed was community participation and active involvement of civil society. He stressed that there “cannot be renewal without public participation. You cannot renew unless politicians appreciate their role”.
- The other challenge was the legal issue raised by the “Legal Resources Centre” (this was later corrected by Prof Ntsebeza who indicated that it was in fact the Centre for Applied Legal Studies – CALS at Wits University) that was working with CALUSA and the Forum.
- MEC openly indicated that he wanted to avoid the “court route”.
- He noted that the meeting was the first of a possible series of other meetings.
- He ended by finding out from the Mayor if she had anything to say at that stage.
- The Mayor indicated that she wanted CALUSA to make her presentation first.
- The MEC handed over to CALUSA.
Professor Lungisile Ntsebeza started by announcing that 11 June is an important day for him and his family. On this date in 1976, five days BEFORE the Soweto Revolts, he and his two siblings were detained by the South African security police and their lackeys in Transkei. He expressed hope that the meeting with the MEC would mark a significant step towards the realization of the ideals they were detained for.
Prof Ntsebeza went on to give a brief outline of the history of CALUSA, focusing on its vision, mission, values and objectives.
BRIEF HISTORY AND ACTIVITIES
According to Prof Ntsebeza, the Cala University Students Association (CALUSA) was established in February 1983 with its focus on UNISA students. He was one of the founder members. The organisation later broadened its constituency to include teachers and students who were studying for matriculation. CALUSA ran study groups, winter schools and a Guidance Centre which could be equated to a night school to accommodate working people, particularly teachers who wanted Matric in order to qualify to be principals. The organisation also established an information/resource centre/library.
With the advent of democracy in 1994 CALUSA focused on rural development with a focus on land and local governance.
Prof Ntsebeza went on to talk about the vision, mission, values and objectives of CALUSA.
CALUSA works towards the attainment of an egalitarian society that emphasizes co-operation rather than competition and in which there is no poverty and inequalities.
To mobilise mainly poor people (youth, women and men) to actively participate in socio-economic changes that are in their interests. It is in an organised and fully mobilized form, coupled with training, that poor people will effect socio-economic change in society.
CALUSA believes and lives by the following values:
- Cooperation rather than competition
- Sharing as opposed to individualism
- Participatory democracy
- Pro-poor bias
- Transparency and accountability
AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
CALUSA’s main objective is to build a strong movement of rural people premised on the principles of participatory democracy. The organisation’s ancillary objectives are:
- To build capacity of communities to understand government policies and the socio-economic issues affecting them.
- To support communities to have access to and manage natural resources such as land.
- To encourage active community participation in development processes, including those facilitated by government.
- To support communities in their endeavours to democratize rural governance.
- To contribute in building strong civil society organisations that engage government and any institutions that work against the interests of poor people and
- To raise funds and receive contributions where appropriate to finance our work.
Prof Ntsebeza then handed over to Dr Fani Ncapayi who spoke on governance issues in the Sakhisizwe Municipal area.
Dr Ncapayi traced CALUSA’s direct involvement in governance issues in Sakhisizwe to mid-2018, when there were shutdowns of the offices of SM in both towns, albeit at different times. Together with other civil society structures and individuals in the municipal area, CALUSA hosted a range of meetings to discuss the crisis in SM.
The above discussions ended up with a request from some civil society structures in the Sakhisizwe municipal area that CALUSA arranges seminars that would focus on government laws and policies on local government.
CALUSA organised three seminars last year (2019). The first seminar focused on the nature and organisation of a municipality. In the final analysis and after closely analyzing the South African constitution and legislation flowing from it, there was general agreement that there are three legs that constitute a municipality:
- Politicians who are elected through local government elections
- Administrators and
- Civil society
A legal opinion was sought on the issue of civil society being the third leg. The opinion endorsed this view.
The sticky point, according to Dr Ncapayi was that both the politicians and administrators marginalized representatives of civil society structures from playing their role. There were series of meetings which did not yield any result.
Apart from the issue of citizenship participation, CALUSA and the Forum wanted access to information concerning SM, information that should generally be freely accessible to the public.
These attempts were also frustrated.
As a last resort, CALUSA and Forum took the Court route. In this CALUSA works closely with CALS at Wits University.
An application for access to information is underway. It is this application that the MEC referred to and wanted it avoided, if possible.
Professor Ntsebeza came back to inform the meeting that in its entire history of more than 37 years, CALUSA does not only criticize, the organisation is pro-active and always comes up with alternatives.
In the current context, Prof Ntsebeza reminded the meeting about the proposals that the Forum, with CALUSA playing a critical role, have submitted as an intervention to counter the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the CALUSA presentation, the MEC requested the SM officials to make their presentation. The presentations were made by the Mayor, Speaker and Acting Municipal Manager.
SAKHISIZWE MUNICIPALITY PRESENTATIONS
The Mayor was the first to speak.
Noticeable was that she focused on the two towns of Cala and Elliot, with scant reference to the villages and commercial farms that are part of the municipal area. She made the following points:
- There was no stability – bekungalulanga. She noted imigushuzo that happed in 2018 and thought that issues were politicized.
- She also highlighted the suspension of the Municipal Manager, Mr Mvulane as another source of instability.
- She was adamant that there is public participation in the running of SM. She made examples of (a) the land forum; (b) ward committee meetings; (c) IDP road shows.
- She admitted that there were “challenges” such as Council not meeting and standing committees not functioning.
- Although she mention that there are still problems, which she did not specify, her overall view was/is that SM is inclusive and responsive.
- She highlighted the following as examples (a) meetings of Council and standing committees are taking place; (b) Annual reports are compiled and (c) information is freely available and is available at the local library.
- The Mayor also indicated that they are open to and would consider proposals from any source.
- She touched on the Joint Operations Committee (JOC) that is supposed to focus on COVID-19 in the Sakhisizwe area and pointed out that the structure was open for people to participate and make contributions. She specifically said: i-JOC ayiyoyethu … siyivulele izandla … simema wonke umntu.
- She pointed out that civil society organisations are participating in JOC. She specifically mentioned SANCO as part of JOC.
The next presentation was made by the Speaker of SM. She started off by pointing out that she was in full agreement with what the Mayor said and touched on the following:
- Public participation is taking place in Sakhisizwe.
- They make it a point that all structures are invited: zonke ii-structures zimenyiwe.
- The methods they use in calling meetings are effective – they issue letters to structures and people.
- On the information that CALUSA and the Forum wanted, she blamed the state of the Municipality but did not want to commit herself pointing out that the matter is dealt with by the Mayor and Acting MM.
The last presentation of SM was by the Acting Municipal Manager (AMM).
- AMM began by making an admission that the Municipality made a mistake in not responding to requests by CALUSA and the Forum.
- He further pointed out that the Municipality did not comply with the law and regulations.
- There was no proper handing over when he took over in January this year (2020). As a result he was not even aware that CALUSA and the Forum were taking legal steps (PAIA application)
- He was very clear that information requested should be provided.
- They must be given a period of about 30 days within which to deliver.
- He specifically committed SM, through him that the information CALUSA and the Forum have been seeking will be made available in batches, the first batch to be delivered on Monday, 15 June and the rest by the end of this month, June 2020.
- He pointed out that a lot has been achieved since he came – Jan 2020. He mentioned that for the first time in years they spent their budget by 100 percent.
- They have successfully negotiated with the Department of Roads and Transport for the improvement of the roads of the two towns of Cala and Elliot. The agreement covers a 12 month period.
- To improve the handling of finances, he has been meeting with the national and provincial treasury with the support of COGTA. As part of this a municipal advisor from National Treasury has been deployed to assist with the finances of the Municipality.
- In his words in isiXhosa he said: Bezingalunganga izinto
- What needs to be addressed, according to the AMM is the improvement of relations with stakeholders. In this regard, he mentioned a presentation that the Mayor did on Vukani Radio on 25 May 2020 where she talked about the draft IDP.
The MEC then took over and opened the floor for discussion. The key things that came up and were strongly contested by CALUSA were the meaning and understanding of public participation on the one hand and service delivery.
On public participation CALUSA challenged the version of the Mayor and Speaker, pointing out that
- putting reports in the library is not public participation;
- the same applies to merely informing people about decisions already made without prior engagement with stakeholders; and
- Sakhisizwe as elsewhere is not homogenous and is made up of various “publics”, with different and at times conflicting interests. Talking to one of these “publics” does not mean that the rest must be marginalised.
- CALUSA insisted that their view of public participation is that civil society should be involved in discussions from the level of policy formulation to the implementation of these policies. This is in line with CALUSA’s view, which is backed up by the opinion from a Senior Advocate that civil society is a third leg of the Municipality and that they have a right to participate at all level of the running of the Municipality. What the role(s) of each of these legs entail is something that can be clarified by all these legs, not one or two of them.
- There is a need for COGTA to clarify and, if necessary review the process of public participation to ensure serious engagement of civil society structures in all their variety.
Service delivery and claims made by representatives of SM were also fiercely challenged and disputed by CALUSA members. Concrete examples were put forward.
MEC SUMMARY AND CLOSING REMARKS
The MEC indicated that he felt that views had been aired and wanted to draw the meeting to a close. Before doing this he requested inputs from his colleagues at COGTA to say something.
Mrs Charity Sihunu pointed out that a “turn-around plan” was emerging to address the problems of SM. This included the management of information, which was seriously lacking.
Mr Siphiwo Maqungu reported that the case of the MM of SM, Mr Mvulane is about to be finalized – they are waiting for the final report/verdict.
He agreed substantially with the AMM that CALUSA acted within their rights in asking for information.
In his summary and closing remarks, the MEC has this to say:
- Expressed disappointment that some members of CALUSA were not appreciative of the progress that is made in Sakhisizwe, “no matter incinane kangakanani” were his words. His view was that these efforts should be acknowledged even if they are “not enough”.
- On public participation, he agreed with CALUSA on the notion of “publics”, pointing out nothing should be resolved without the active participation of stakeholders and that if the initiative comes from the Municipality, the document is a draft and remains so until all have had their say and their views have been considered. In his words, all committees must be representative of all “publics”.
- Was happy that the process for access to information has been concretised, with dates.
- Expressed hope that COGTA and CALUSA will continue to be in dialogue in search of each other.
- He noted two concerns. First, tensions between Cala and Elliot and the view that there is a bias in favor of Cala. Second was the issue of projects “eziyekwe phakathi”.
In thanking the MEC, Prof Ntsebeza wondered “what if” agreements reached and promises made at the meeting were not fulfilled. This according to Prof Ntsebeza is what history tells us. He was quick though to point out that history should not burden and enslave us, but it is important to draw lessons from it.
The MEC’s response was in the form of an appeal to CALUSA with an emphasis on what he constantly referred to as a period of renewal.
The last comment came from the Mayor, who thanked the MEC and expressed her concern about divisions between Cala and Elliot and her desire to unite the people of these towns – uhlanganisa abantu beseSakhisizwe.
END OF THE MEETING AFTER MORE THAN 2.5 HOURS.
- MEC Xolile Nqata
- Ms Charity Sihunu
- Mr Andile Fani
- Mr Siphiwo Maqungo
- Mr Mandlenkosi Mqotyana
- Mr Mthetho Xali
- Prof Lungisile Ntsebeza
- Dr Fani Ncapayi
- Mrs Nomvuzo Nopote
- Mr Siphiwo Liwani
- Mr Sibusiso Nopote
- Mayor: Buyiswa Ntsere
- Speaker: Khuliswa Faku
- Acting Municipal Manager:Basil Mase