Blueprint needed to get rid of municipal inequality

THE National Planning Commission’s comprehensive National Development Plan (NDP) and the Development Bank of Southern Africa’s Development Report both provided unequivocal positions on the pace of urbanisation. The NDP says growing cities need to bolster economic infrastructure while planning for more habitable urban environments that can accommodate fast-growing populations.



It is widely conceded in policy-making circles that local government requires a "differentiated" solution for different contexts. Nothing illustrates the extent of these differences quite as starkly as data. We have weighed up the extent to which municipal contexts enable the productivity of individual residents.



This year’s results show that manageable backlogs accelerated spending and relatively robust local economies make the metros the most attractive places to live. But what is more surprising is the extent to which these results pull away from other categories of municipalities.



SA’s largest nine cities have scored an average of 704 on our municipal productivity index; consider this against an average of 417 for former homeland areas and 438 for rural areas (urbanised areas score 574 and small towns outside of former homeland areas 541). When considering spatial trends it is little surprise that Gauteng and the Western Cape have the highest provincial scores on the index with little sign of a change in this lead since the first set of index scores was released in 2007.



While scores of the worst-performing municipalities on the index have been relatively static they haven’t even started closing the gaps between them and urban areas in large part due to an inability of economically marginalised areas to spend at a similar rate as their urban counterparts. One of the issues in the productivity index is expenditure rates and it is in this area that the fault lines in local government become most apparent.



Municipalities in the Western Cape and Gauteng spent more than R4000 a resident in 2010-11 while municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal Limpopo and the Eastern Cape spent less than half of this — less than R2000 a resident. Of course it is the latter grouping that is typified by infrastructure backlogs. Spending per resident in former homeland areas comes in at R756 worse even than the rural-area average of R760. Compare this with a metro average of R3950 or more impressively with the R7466 and R6550 by Nelson Mandela Bay and Johannesburg respectively or top local spender Hessequa (R8587).



What is needed then is a solution that reverses this apparent entrenchment of inequality. But is rapid urbanisation part of this solution or a response that will intensify inequality in urban areas? While urbanisation may solve the urban-rural delivery discrepancy somewhat what will it do to cities when it further enlarges informal settlements? While the NDP envisages informal settlements being formalised by 2030 they remain places of discontent and fuel intramunicipal inequality that has been a major contributor to service delivery protests.



We have recorded major service delivery protests since 2004 with 36% of these protests in informal settlements and almost half (48%) in metro areas.



This year almost half of protests (as of the end of last month ) took place in the Western Cape and Gauteng — the top performers on the municipal productivity index and therefore attractive recipient areas for migrants.



Does this mean that the list of troubled Thembelihles Makhazas and Zandspruits will continue to grow? This year has been encouraging in that a marked dip in protests was seen over the local government elections (when politicians visited communities) and although a resilient feature of the political landscape protests have dropped off the highs of 2009 and last year especially in Gauteng. The active engagement by Gauteng’s MECs for housing and local government appears to confirm that protestors are willing to engage on their grievances.



But what of rural residents? An examination of local government’s current system is under way (with districts alleged to be in the firing line) and is a profound progression from previous strategies which attempted to remedy the existing system. While a new blueprint will not be easy to design and even more difficult to negotiate it is crucially important to give an attractive spatial face to the NDP’s "new story" for SA.