Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma

Keynote Address by Minister Dlamini Zuma at the National Council of Provinces State Capability Conference

Honourable Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces.

Deputy Chairperson for the NCOP.

Chairperson and members of the Select Committee on COGTA.

Members of the academia.

Honourable ministers who have been presenting

Honourable members.

Distinguished guests.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this Conference which seeks to explore State Capability, with a view to identify weaknesses whilst Devising Strategic Mechanisms to Accelerate Policy Implementation. This conference comes 2 days shy of the three years since our people voted for this 6th democratic parliament on 8 May 2019. Thus, the time for identifying and strategizing has long passed its sunset. Our people’s patience has long waned.

There was a 15% decline in voter turnout from the 2016 to the 2021 local government elections, which signals that waning patience.[1] Of course, voter turnout is but one indicator. But the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), notes Declining voter turnout signals the deep problems democracies are facing today. Lower turnout suggests that fewer citizens consider elections the main instrument for legitimizing political parties’ control over political decision- making.”[2]

In the South African context, the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) Centre for Social Change, has shown that there is an emerging trend of some 14% of voters who have become ‘hardened abstainers’, meaning that they have abstained in all three of the last elections.[3] Further, 58% of those who abstained in the 2021 Local Government Elections had voted in at least one of the last two elections. According to the UJ research, these abstainers are most likely to be under 35, meaning that in the close horizon political party appeal, across the board, is declining too. These abstainers are also more likely to be men and blacks, with Africans having the highest proportion.

Whereas service delivery has been cited as the main reason for abstention, it appears to be the third highest reason for abstention. 19% of respondents cited service delivery as the main cause of abstention. However, 34% cited individual barriers such as not being registered in the Voting District on elections day or being busy at work. This may indicate the devaluation of electoral democracy and pre-emptive disengagement. 22% cited administrative barriers which include not being registered or not having an ID book and 17% were uninterested or disillusioned.

Nonetheless, all these reasons are within the purview of the state and political parties and can be solved by either aggressive voter registration and public information or quality service delivery. This global voter participation decline also suggests a global ‘winter’ for democracy. The masses are gradually seeing through what former President of Cuba Fidel Castro called the “Permanent Hurricane of Underdevelopment”, where “some people’s right to have everything [is asserted] while others have nothing.[4]

Consequently, communities are finding alternative forms of organising and mobilising. As the IDEA research shows these forms include, mass protests, ‘occupy’ movements and social media. These platforms often lack just and fair rules of engagement. This challenges constitutional imperatives, democratic values, social justice, and fundamental human rights. At times this results in phenomena such as xenophobia, afro phobia, and discrimination, which fuel the existing state of lawlessness.

Since development and the attendant challenges happen in a locality, these alternative forms of engagement are organised at a local level. This also suggests, as you have suggested in your invitation to us, that the local sphere is the battle ground for the developmental state.

 In this regard, the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation’s (DPME) Policy Brief on Trust in Government is informative. It shows a declining trust in government with local government being the least trusted. It observes that confidence in local government is at 34% which is lower than that of provincial government at 36% and national government at 42%. Despite congruence in the overall trust in government globally, the local government conclusions in South Africa are different from experiences in some nations.

For instance, the latest Deloitte Survey into State and Local Governments in the USA offers an analysis on trust which entails competence and intent. It concludes: “the bottom line: State and local governments, in general, were viewed more favourably than the federal government[5].

Whereas the conclusions may also have to do with the differing expectations, powers, and functions of the various levels of government in the USA there are three valuable lessons to be gathered in relation to trust.

  • Firstly, in those nations mission matters, because the roles and responsibilities of the various levels and agencies of government are not blurred.
  • Secondly, these various agencies have the requisite capabilities and capacities to deliver on that mandate, especially at a local level. And
  • Finally, with the advancement of technology, digital experiences have driven trust in government and its agencies, especially at a local level.

This means the best is offered to the local sphere and the best and most experienced talent is deployed there. Unfortunately, in South Africa the converse is true. The local sphere has the least resources and has the widest skills gap. Even, at an administrative level the capacity constraints are evidenced by the latest Capacity Study by the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB), which shows that 62% of municipalities do not have sufficiently skilled staff in key areas such as community services and development planning. As we have shown before even in the technical departments the challenge is evident.

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) latest research on local government capacities partially attributes these shortages to a large mismatch between skills development plans and training efforts. There are also instances where well-qualified people join the municipality, but there is no system in place to absorb and use those skills productively. These cohorts end up being frustrated, hence the high turnover in various municipalities and the high number of senior officials in acting capacities. This leads to the outsourcing of functions such as the production of financial reports to private companies.

Consequently, the NDP identifies capacity issues as a leading challenge that undermines the creation of a capable democratic developmental state. At the root of this and other challenges facing the state, is the lack of economic development. This means that at the local level there are limited meaningful opportunities with the state being the main or only source of influence, income, employment, and livelihood.

This means the public sector and local government becomes a highly contested terrain. Thus, many fight for the few available positions, sometimes leading to death. This also explains the high turnover in councils. Thus over 51% of councillors are new councillors, which also means even the institutional memory is lost to the local political realm. It being often the only source of employment or income, means that interests are high on who becomes a mayor, councillor, Municipal Manager, or staff, because that could mean securing a job or a tender.

Thus, one finds businesses and ‘interest’ groups who are invested in the municipality and will do whatever it takes to assert themselves. This leads to weak appointments in the administration. This eventually sees the municipality going down that slippery slope of decline, with poor service delivery, no accountability and without consequence management. And so, starts the vicious cycle of decline, no service delivery, deepened poverty, and protests. In that cycle, despite high potential, no investor enters and thus the municipality continues to run a deficit and relies on grants to barely keep the lights on. These municipalities are mostly constituted by indigents. Therefore, they can never raise enough of a revenue to finance services and development.

Thus, despondent and in search of better opportunities, the youth migrate out of the area to swell the ranks of the urban poor and unemployed. Consequently, the metros and urban areas continue to chase a moving target which they are unable to plan for.

As more and more come, informal settlements become the order of the day. Driven by commitment and the obligation to provide services, these urban poles shift the scarce resources to prioritise the provision of electricity, water, shelter, sanitation, amenities, health, and education to this ever-increasing migrant constituency. In this development antithesis we have advanced nobody really wins as ultimately both rural and urban South Africa loose.

Honourable Chairperson, we must view these challenges in isolation of the broader societal challenges, which we highlighted in the NCOP March Strategy Session. On that occasion we said: “South Africa has 1 artisan per 2 000 citizens as opposed to the global norm of 1 artisan per 30 citizens”. For some time, we have also highlighted the dearth of skills at a local level with an ever-increasing skills gap wherein for instance there is 1 engineer for every 3 200 people compared with 1 for every 130 people in places such as China. Other specialised STEM areas which can drive our development at a local level, such as marine biology, hydrologists, animal husbandry, botanists, actuarial scientists, and many more are also scarce.

Thus, the deliberate STEM drive by the Departments responsible for Education are most welcome. As are the plans to find new exit freeways to facilitate for the acquiring of artisan skills before the 12th Grade. This will also address the 9,1 million young people who are Not in Employment, Education or Training, who are stuck in a cycle of dependence and poverty. This requires the involvement of all industries so that we may work on an integrated national skills plan. The plan must go beyond the identification of gaps. It must ultimately place skilled personnel and support the enterprises which can create sustainable and quality jobs. It will also need a critical skills mix, between the STEM areas and humanities.

Notably, even our unplanned emphasis on the arts and humanities remains oblivious of our current and future realities, as well as technological advancements. This, even though they can contribute to our economy and facilitate for innovation. In this regard, lessons can be drawn from countries such as South Korea where they have added the “A” for “Arts” in the STEM areas. Making it STEAM facilitates for the nurturing of the creative and arts sector whilst facilitating for innovation and problem solving in the STEM areas. This will contribute to local economic development and requires coordinated and integrated planning at a societal and government level.

Since it is a society wide approach, we therefore believe that the introduction of the District Development Model (DDM) will improve integrated planning and delivery across society.

Honourable Chairperson because the successful implementation of the DDM approach requires functional and capable municipalities, it builds on the lessons gained in the implementation of the 2004 Project Consolidate. It also draws on the lessons of government wide programmes such as the Local Government Turn Around Strategy. Because it is an approach, the DDM does not replace the Back-to-Basics (B2B) Programme, but it enhances it.

The Back-to-Basics programme has found political instability and weaknesses in governance as the major causes for poor service delivery. These also lead to poor financial management, increased vacancy rates and further weakening municipalities. Certainly, these have been the challenges identified by the various provinces which have instituted various section 139 interventions in 30 municipalities.

You may also recall that some of these reasons were partly why we had to institute a section 100 in the North West, whose progress the NCOP is well appraised of. However, in line with Constitutional provisions, in particular section 139 (7) we have had to further intervene in the municipalities of Lekwa, Mangaung and Enoch Mgijima.

As we have said to this House before, these must be viewed as actions of last resort. Our preference would have to carry the spirit and letter of section 154 which calls on “national and provincial government [to] support and strengthen the capacity of municipalities to manage their own affairs”.

The reality is that we are seeing that even the national and provincial departments related to cooperative governance and traditional affairs are themselves ill-equipped and under financed to coordinate such support. On the surface it may seem that with a budget of over R106 billion our department is well financed. But the reality is that after transfers to provinces and municipalities as well as allocations to the Community Works Programme we are left with under 6% of the total budget. All this must fix all the municipalities, deal with disasters, and pay salaries. In reality, we are small department with a huge mandate.

Our personnel, despite their commitment, are not equipped with the right early warning systems. They are often not trained in the necessary intervention skills which at times require the brokering of peace. Even as we get support from other departments, such as the treasury, justice and DPME, whose support we value, we also find that they too are either swamped with other work or also not adequately skilled. We are determined to solve this in the spirit of cooperative governance. Come Budget Vote we will advance some propositions which we think in the Medium Term will stabilise municipalities, once and for all.

These propositions will be based on the DDM approach and will energize our entire system of cooperative governance whilst building our capability as an ethical Developmental State. The DDM political and administrative champions as well as some District Forums which have been appointed for each of the districts are integral to these propositions. It is our hope that both Houses of Parliament through the Constituency offices will also adopt the DDM approach. The DDM cannot be a matter of mere compliance, but it is a real chance at building an agile and response paradigm of development which will meet the needs and aspirations of the people.

To bring this to reality a range of supportive instruments will be required which must improve the IGR system, these include:

  1. Improving the functionality of Intergovernmental coordination, which requires role clarification amongst the various spheres,
  2. The Organisational review which will optimise COGTA structures,
  3. Focused capacity building across all spheres of government, and
  4. Improved early warning and reporting systems which integrate performance monitoring and measurement.

The DDM also recognises the need for all spheres of government to implement programmes in an integrated manner. This requires joint planning and the synchronisation of implementation, which all require that capabilities and capacities are shared. We must also avoid the adding of an additional layer of bureaucracy and reporting, thus we must promote a flexible and developmental government which continuously shares information and engages the public. This will require that the public sector internalises the principles of Batho Pele and an ethical developmental state.

Honourable Chairperson, there have been several efforts to address policy vacuums and capacity shortages in municipalities. The effectiveness of these have varied, and the lessons learnt, and best practice experience have been shared with SALGA and some municipalities.

In seeking to close attendant policy vacuums, last year we promulgation of regulations to guide appointment procedures. However, some municipalities continue to appoint municipal managers and senior managers who do not meet the minimum competencies prescribed for the posts. This has been compounded by a general high but improving vacancy rate. The regulations also direct us to give focussed attention on the finalisation of performance agreements in municipalities. Thus, we are pressurising all municipal councils to expedite the filling of the remaining vacant posts and the conclusion of all performance agreements by June.

There is no doubt that one of the most urgent tasks in local government is to build an ethical local state. In this regard, COGTA has implemented several actions to continue to build an ethical local state and these have included the establishment of a Database of Disciplinary proceedings instituted against municipal staff and the roiling out of the out of the Local Government Anti-Corruption Strategy. In the end those that are guilty of crime and corruption must face consequences.

Honourable Chairperson, we have in the past and in recent strategic workshops of the NCOP reported on the capacity enhancement measures we are undertaking mainly through the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency (MISA). We continue to support municipalities by mainly deploying technical professionals. We have also put in place an artisanry and bursary programmes.

We are also collaborating with the National School of Government on some of the ethical issues. We are drawing invaluable lessons from these interventions and support programmes. All these lessons point to the need to improve coordination and facilitating for a longer-term view through the DDM. We must also base our support on the realities, long term goals and aspirations of the localities we are intervening in. This will therefore require smart partnerships particularly with communities, industries and in the rural setting with institutions of traditional leadership.

Honourable chairperson, the time for action is now. The time for strategizing has long reached its sunset. Thus, this is the right time for governments (in all its spheres) and political parties to adapt and come up with sound and action orientated responses. We must also reposition ourselves to meet the demands of active citizens. Technologies and social media platforms can effectively get us there so long as they support the actions of our communities and their aspirations. This will need an agile, responsive, and capacitated administration. This must be supported by an enabling and a collaborative political environment across party benches.

We therefore take this opportunity to thank this House for the support you have given thus far. We look forward to the actionable outcomes of this Conference so that we can build a better life for all, together.

I thank you


[1] See

[2] See

[3] See

[4] See Fidel Castro, Globalization and World Politics Today, Oceans Press, 2004