The spotlight is on municipalities — for the wrong reasons.

Cape Town – Once a footnote in the news cycle, the irreversible effects of poverty, persistent unemployment, incompetence, and corruption in South Africa’s municipalities are increasingly making headlines.

Many wealthy individuals who work in air-conditioned offices and live in leafy suburbs would have barely noticed. However, those who are directly involved in the deteriorating administration of municipal governments have made it a point to constantly warn decision-makers of the upcoming dangers.

Those focusing were not amazed by the Evaluator General of SA Tsakani Maluleke’s rehashed admonitions contained in the United General Report on Neighborhood Government Review Results, for example, the one delivered on May 31.

As an increasing number of municipalities fall into such financial chaos that their ability to continue operating in the future is in question, South Africans need to prepare for challenging times ahead.

She asserts, “Poor decisions, neglect, or inefficiencies are causing local governments to lose billions of rand annually.” Even the normally admirable performance of the Western Cape sputtered, as three municipalities lost their clean audit status.

It hit the vast majority, even from ivory towers, that the water and disinfection emergency, the cholera passings, the potholed streets – the explanations behind them flawlessly show up in Maluleke’s 144-page report hanging as a public mirror showing how terrible things have become.

Poverty, unemployment, corruption, and simmering political dissatisfaction threaten to undermine the gains made in our democracy’s early years, and the stench of humanity under stress is already permeating our struggling constitutional democracy.

As the nearby government appointment of 2021 neglected to create clear victors in certain committees, alliances fuel shakiness in these regions, as persuasive party groups sell positions, to the detriment of administration conveyance.

The heat will become unbearable for many voters whose hopes and aspirations have been shattered by the political turmoil that stifled human and economic progress in municipalities nationwide as we get closer to the national and provincial elections in 2024.

Municipal services are seriously failing in an increasing number of municipalities, including those under coalition governments.

“We found that 56% of the 217 municipalities with audit opinions other than disclaimed or adverse had indicators of financial strain when we analyzed their financial statements. In the event that not took care of, this can bring about huge uncertainty about their capacity to work,”

Maluleke’s report says. More than half of the country’s municipalities will have liabilities that exceed assets by the end of this year; 36% of people have spent more than they could afford, so they are covering their current expenses with money from next year’s budget.

Given the state of the economy right now, revenues are unlikely to rise as a result of this unhealthy spending, which is likely to have an impact on service delivery.

The resulting misallocation of funds can be seen everywhere: streets filled with potholes and raw sewage; water shortages; recurring issues with the electricity; the spread of diseases transmitted by water; and shattered ties.

According to Maluleke, municipalities’ debts to Eskom and water boards remained substantial and continued to rise as a result of interest and late payment penalties.

The subsequent stopping of admittance to fundamental administrations, for example, power and water leaves individuals abandoned and furthermore makes it challenging for organizations to work ideally, which further influences the striving economy.

In response to similar warnings and reports in the past, politicians have moved those accused of wrongdoing into other municipal government positions in different districts while simultaneously bolstering the egos of incompetent and corrupt individuals in influential positions.

This focus on immediate, self-serving relief only exacerbates the existing long-term issue.

Maluleke noticed that the compensation bill of most regions was vital for such an extent that it “swarms out spending”.

During the examination year, the municipalities spent R121.47 billion on salaries and wages: When you spend so much money on salaries and wages, service delivery suffers.

But if provincial and national government departments do the same in the name of adhering to the cadre deployment policy, how can the rest of the country blame politicians in local governments for taking a short-term approach to addressing skills shortages and cronyism?

Voters have a golden opportunity to back credible independent candidates in the regular by-elections in order to oust the candidates for political parties with factions.

Apathy has been the electorate’s response instead! The efficient administration mitigation measures that this audit report and others released in previous years have been urgently calling for conflict directly with this political party entrenchment with the goal of ignoring and perpetuating corruption.

It demonstrates the strength of our democracy’s party system, which continues to have an unfair advantage over independent public representatives who can directly answer to the people.

Remember that political parties have monopolized the seats in the legislatures since 1994 when you next hear a politician complain about how expensive it will be to include independent candidates at the national and provincial levels as a way to increase accountability.

They decide who serves in local governments centrally. The existential crisis caused by dysfunctional local governments calls for, but does not have, national leadership.

This vacuum would be an incredible spot to begin to lead the country on anything.

We can’t possibly hope to get out of this mess by relying solely on political parties. What will, if our post-apocalyptic municipalities of the past cannot inspire meaningful grassroots action?

Record fires in informal settlements, trash piles in public areas, clogged stormwater and sewage systems, unauthorized electricity connections, and cable thefts are among the problems.

However what tops ideological groups’ interests today is sustaining unit arrangement, not the reasonableness of our networks and capturing degenerate people.

The kind of action that is required to deal with this national and generational threat is incompatible with our chronically short attention spans.

Unless South Africans demand it, political parties in government will not act decisively.

The public interest of South Africa must take precedence over vested interests in maintaining the nation’s dependence on corrupt politicians.

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