A comparative analysis of Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Nelson Mandela Bay municipalities by Crispian Olver examines electoral, governance and socio-economic data in relation to the performance of these municipalities. He concludes that “… periods of political instability and factionalism have corresponded to decline in service delivery performance, citizen satisfaction, governance and financial sustainability”; and that “while city governance has economic effects, there are broader structural dynamics and demographic patterns which are beyond the control of cities”. Consequently, city governance needs support to overcome the interplay between the impact of political instability on administrative performance as well as factors over which they have no influence.
Although National Treasury correctly wields the big stick with respect to public finance, cities receive little support to ensure consistent performance in areas beyond their control and in establishing administrative resilience. Instead, initiatives such as the Cities Support Programme by National Treasury have focussed on spatial restructuring and nebulous concepts such township economic development which are marginally relevant to their primary responsibilities. It is, therefore, unsurprising that the CSP has had sketchy success. The spatial structure of municipalities, like the economy, is the result of social interactions based on race and class that are mainly out of cities’ control because these are determined by other, often contradictory national policies.
Baris Bayram in an article entitled Three Ways in Which Research Perpetuates Injustice, explains that there is no “invisible hand” which allocates rewards according to capabilities or performance, including ensuring that academic research or social interactions are recognised in terms of scientific or ethical merits. Bayram mentions three patterns causing “unjust appreciation”. These are a lack of intellectual development to determine values, merits and rewards; cognitive and social biases; and tribalism, together with power and conflict. In other words, our biases undermine our intentions because we see the world not for what it is but for what we are which is limited to what we know. This is what the CSP represents.
Support programmes require perspectives that reach beyond the limitations of those academics and consultants who advise government. The impact of limited knowledge masquerading as intelligence was highlighted recently when the CSP undertook an assessment of the New Brighton township economy in Nelson Mandela Bay. Predictably, the recommendations included the need for more policies. Absent from the analysis was an interrogation of the statistical information to appreciate why the situation exists, what the municipality has been doing and why previous initiatives have failed. Thus, the recommendations are irrelevant, unnecessary, complex and disproportionate to the local reality. One of the reasons developments, especially in townships takes longer than expected is that provision has to be made to deal with many different stakeholders and gatekeepers often motivated by self-interest. That undermines policy implementation, and the solutions lie not in more policies, but in finding ways in which to overcome the prevailing obstacles, which the CSP does not do.
Contemporary support programmes are patronising because they see poor Black people instead of communities where people have agency, the ability to make decisions and to act on them. The uncritical application of international development concepts has led to stereotyped policy recommendations despite townships in SA being unique. Dated ideas packaged in contemporary jargon are morally and financially indefensible. For example, township economic development has its genesis in the Mandela administration’s From Townships to Suburbs programme. Similarly, most post-COVID-19 economic recovery plans have been cut and paste from previous plans. As a result, there is repetition rather than rumination on impactful social and economic change.
Conditions in townships endure not for lack of trying because billions of Rands have been spent on infrastructure and development programmes in line with prevailing policies. The inability to address dependence on single incomes, multiple incomes contributing towards single households, structural unemployment, endemic violence, and the building of new low-cost housing in old townships are contributory factors. Public education, health and safety neglect is acutely felt in townships. Cities have no control over this.
Concerns associated with the way policies and laws were being formulated and their impact on governance were raised during the Mbeki administration. Under the Zuma administration, parliament undertook a comprehensive review of legislation to ensure that laws are appropriate to requirements. In December 2020, the Ramaphosa Cabinet approved the National Policy Development Framework which serves to avoid the plethora, often over-bearing and rarely relevant policies. The framework provides eight factors to be considered before policies are produced. These include necessity, simplicity and proportionality and is an advance on approaches promoted by National Treasury. Bayram advises that we should be alert to, and avoid socio-cultural patterns that support, rationalise, and generate injustice by investing in “cognitive and social debiasing”; and to apply “just appreciation” as the means of achieving better research innovation and application. This includes improving feedback and recognition patterns to promote shifts towards ethical directions.
National Treasury runs the risk of entrenching apartheid and underdevelopment through the CSP. It would achieve more if it took the time to understand that its role is not to promote questionable development theories but to ensure that public funds are spent wisely and that city administrations are able to do so regardless of their operating environments. As institutions on the frontline of service delivery, cities carry the ethical and financial responsibilities of human development. This will be achieved when officials trust their own skills, experience, and knowledge instead of relying on carpetbaggers whose advice entrenches the status quo.