Need to take the residents seriously

NOW that we have prematurely entered a winter of discontent, given a flurry of community protests, isn't it time that we asked ourselves some tough questions?

This situation arises against the backdrop of various interventions that range from Project Consolidate to Five-year Local Government Strategic Agenda that have been implemented with apparent limited success.

It is a recurring decimal. Bouts of protests followed by relative calm and then townships and informal settlements exploding once again.

We seem to be lulled into a false sense of security. Given the repetitive nature of these protests, will one be off the mark to ask: Are attempts to resolve these protests looking at just the symptoms or are they also addressing the root causes?

If the former is the case, why are we not changing course as this approach is definitely not working? If the interventions are also looking at the root causes, why are we not succeeding in bringing stability and progress to our municipalities?

Local government needs to work better and restore its credibility.

Hence the need to confront issues fearlessly and robustly. These issues include, among others, leadership or lack thereof at both political and administrative levels, skills and competencies required for catapulting this sphere of government to a higher developmental trajectory, perceived rampant corruption and the apparent disconnect between municipalities and their clientele.

Much has been written about most of these issues hence the need to focus mainly on the "disconnect" conundrum.

Residents seem to feel alienated and not being taken seriously. Hence their resorting to protest action that unfortunately leads to violence. There is no justification for violence to air grievances. In fact, it should not only be condemned, but should be fought wherever it rears its ugly head.

Having said that, we still need to confront the fact that people are dissatisfied and seem, at best, to be losing confidence in municipalities and, at worst, having lost faith in their local leadership.

Our grievance-handling systems in municipalities are not adequate and this leads to frustrations building up to a point of rupture.

Our people know what they want, they have the right to demand it and they have a concomitant responsibility to contribute to getting that which they want.

Public participation mechanism weaknesses that include some councillors having lost touch with their constituencies and platforms for engagements being absent do not assist in facilitating this symbiotic relationship.

If popular democracy structures were functioning, as they are supposed to, they will indeed provide for ways to take pre-emptive action as early warning mechanisms would ensure appropriate responsiveness.

With the roll-out of the Local Government Turn-around strategy, one hopes that the "disconnect" conundrum will feature high on the change agenda and does not fall within the cracks when strictly technical service delivery issues are being attended to.

Best plans can only succeed if those they are intended to benefit buy into them and we have one more opportunity to reconnect while regaining credibility.

l The writer is a media and political commentator