BHEKE STOFILE, PRESIDENT OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN LOCAL GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION (SALGA), CO-PRESIDENT OF UCLG
What are the opportunities and challenges of the Pact and the Retreat from the South African and African perspectives?
The future will only be bleak if it is not prepared by the current leadership. The important thing is that we need to unite to propel the future. That is the point of the UCLG Retreat for me: ‘We’ focuses on what we can do individually and collectively. If you clap your hands, for instance, with two fingers, the noise cannot be heard. However, if you clap all ten fingers together, you can create a noise that can be heard by everyone. This metaphor demonstrates the importance of the union of local government practitioners.
Moreover, in the South African context, we define local government as a public business, a business to govern the commons, and we focus on inter-governmental relations that can make changes for members of UCLG anywhere in the world, as long as the individual spaces have been configured.
Regarding the Pact, I think that each of us has a responsibility to contribute towards the future. The future is not going to fall from the sky. All of us must work towards building it. That is why, to me, the ‘We’ part of the discussion is so important. It shows the importance of joining hands for not just our future but that of our children as well.
What are your priorities for the next years?
The first priority should strive to invest more time in joining hands and moving as a united force. I liked the opening remark of the Secretary General, Emilia Saiz, yesterday, about cooking and looking for the type of food you want, contributing ingredients from around the world to address a multiplicity of challenges. One of these challenges is hunger, others are housing or education. You can only achieve that collaboration by being creative as a government and representing the interests of our people since they expect us to contribute. Therefore, with the multitude of issues to address, collaboration and coordination among the spheres of government is one of our first priorities.
The second priority is to create conducive conditions for our partners to invest in the lives of our people, making sure that the communities of today are different, better communities tomorrow. One of the themes here is that there must be peace and stability for all. Today, I heard stories about what is happening in Syria and Turkey, and this made me think about how much governments and communities are struggling when confronted with disasters of this scale. We really need global leaders to unite and stand together to address issues such as these.
What is the current context of South African local authorities and municipalism in Africa?
One of the main challenges in local government currently, both on the global scale and also at home in South Africa, is the attitude that other spheres of government have towards local government. They see it as a burden, an institution that is not worth the time or financial resources.
One of the biggest challenges in South Africa, is to change the financial allocation of municipal system. For instance, we as local government have looked into the constitution of the Republic. It allocates responsibilities in the three spheres of government and has established three tiers of responsibilities. Thus, based on what I have seen in parliament, the implementation of this is something we must pursue.
There are other challenges to confront as well as local government, because if we do not, they are going to haunt us in the years to come.
First, there is the shrinking of municipal financial resources. For example, in South Africa, out of a hundred constitutionally assigned functions, 46 are performed in municipalities, so we need corresponding financial resources. We are in conversations now about how to restructure that to deal with the existing imbalance.
Second, we need to regroup the configuration of local government. In South Africa, the government rarely responds to the political will of the people from the bottom up. Only a few seats in parliament are given to mayors, which does not reflect the aspirations of a big city like Johannesburg. If we are not dealing with this, it is going to be a problem for us and for the future.
Third, we need to talk about productivity in the market. By that, I mean the need to develop a rigorous assessment of the performance of local government practitioners in delivering the service desired by voters, who are our shareholders. They expect a return on their investment, which is going out and voting for us. Returns on investments in local government are the quality of services that we provide for the citizens. That quality of service speaks to the value of politicians.
How could the Pact for the Future unfold in Africa?
Listening to the Secretary General, Emilia Saiz, yesterday in the opening and then today, I am seeing the future becoming so much brighter. This is because if, and only if, we agree that there is nothing that is too difficult to deal with, and if we all come together to deal with difficult issues, we are ready to deliver. In unbecoming conditions, always rise to the occasion to see results. The movement is beginning to see the importance of the need to act globally but operate locally.
Any challenge that affects people anywhere in the globe also affects local government practitioners. A sense of solidarity and standing together is an answer to that, and I see that this is growing, there is more interest and there are more contributions. Today, there was a great example of that: ‘We’ asked UCLG to leave no one behind, and the Secretary General responded and emphasised that we need to bring everybody on board.
What are your expectations for the outcome of the Retreat?
I am a person who believes that a bad situation cannot be changed by only complaining about it. It must be changed by taking a step back and saying, how did I come to find myself here and what can I do to change my situation. Indeed, that is one thing that I always say: do not cry along with a person because you see tears coming out of their eyes but rather give them a shoulder to cry on. Demonstrate that you understand the challenge and then support overcoming it.
The funding gap is one of the challenges for the future, and so is building trust. This must happen in different spheres of government. The resilience and the commitment I have seen so far give me hope that tomorrow is going to be better than today. The strength of everyone in the global perspective lies in saying “count me in” in confronting the challenges of the future. Be it fighting hunger, poverty, building community resilience, or tackling a problem happening somewhere far away, people belonging to a local system must come together and be go-getters in solving the problem. We must demand from the United Nations that they develop a new resolution to unite the people of the world.
Finally, I would like to say that there are no limitations to the way forward. We must fly as high as we can. Of course, this journey is not going to be easy and there will be ups and downs. Yet, we must stay focused and say, in the name of the people that have lost their lives in Syria and in Turkey due to the earthquake, that we stand together. Moreover, we must also emphasize that local governments are global, and that we support them, and that we talk to leaders in other spheres of government to end war, suffering, and hunger. We fight for prosperity to change the conditions of all people for the better.