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Chairperson of the Municipal Demarcation Board, Mr Thabo Manyoni,

Chairperson of the CoGTA Portfolio Committee, Mr Fikile Xasa,

Members of the Board,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to first record apologies from the Honourable Minister who is unable to attend this august event due to other prior commitments.

Today marks a pivotal moment in our journey as we gather to reflect on the gains achieved through the five-year spatial trajectory and repositioning of the Municipal Demarcation Board. As we look back on this transformative period, we are reminded of the profound impact that effective spatial planning and demarcation have on the lives of our citizens and the prosperity of our communities.

I am honoured to deliver the opening address in this colloquium convened by the Municipal Demarcation Board to reflect on the gains of the five-year spatial trajectory and repositioning of the demarcation board. At this juncture, it will be prudent for me to express my gratitude and appreciation to the current Board whose term will come to an end in two weeks time.  This Board has done tremendous work and successfully conducted municipal boundary redeterminations and will hand these boundaries over to the incoming Board to embark on the process of ward delimitation.

Over the past five years, the Municipal Demarcation Board has worked tirelessly to redefine and optimize the spatial landscape of our municipalities. Through strategic planning and consultation with stakeholders, they have navigated the complex terrain of urban development, ensuring that our cities and towns are not just spaces, but vibrant hubs of opportunity and inclusivity.

One of the most significant gains of this trajectory has been the fostering of sustainable development. By carefully delineating municipal boundaries and guiding the allocation of resources, the Board has enabled local authorities to implement targeted policies that promote economic growth, environmental stewardship, and social cohesion as critical pillars of a developmental agenda. From revitalizing urban centers to empowering rural communities, their efforts have laid the foundation for a more resilient and equitable future. We must commend this Board for its stellar performance during its term of office.

However, while we celebrate these achievements, we must also acknowledge the challenges that lie ahead. As we confront the realities of rapid urbanization, climate change, and socio-economic disparities, the need for proactive and visionary spatial planning has never been greater. These challenges occur in a local government environment that is transforming a political and governance perspective. The sector is also under severe financial pressure which adds to the volatility of the environment. All of this is in the context of a lasting apartheid spatial planning legacy that haunts our democratic dispensation. The MDB is a critical role player in addressing these challenges and hence it is imperative that we continue to support the Municipal Demarcation Board in its mission to create spaces that are not only functional but also inclusive, sustainable, and resilient.

Climate Change

The reality of climate change is making our job as local government practitioners even more difficult than it already is. The very locations of some our municipalities are becoming unviable due to the climate reality we are faced with. This is not to say that we can demarcate our way out of the climate crisis, but we must begin to use the demarcation process to assist us in making decisions. Disaster response and capacity of municipalities is becoming increasingly important. This must be factored into decision making processes at the MDB. Where people are located and where development takes place must be considered in an era of volatility and unpredictability in our weather.

Rethinking Demarcation – The IMDA Bill and the DDM

Whilst this session coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Board, it also coincides with the process to repeal the Municipal Demarcation Act of 1998 and replace it with the Independent Municipal Demarcation Authority Act, once assented to by the President.

One of the important lessons we have learned in the past 25 years of local government was realizing that the way in which local municipalities are crafted and designed in terms of the spatial context is not necessarily ideal for their objectives. While we sought to expand our delivery of services from wall to wall across the breadth of our country, we have had to come to the realization that this model may not be best suited for this particular purpose.

The DDM has given us an opportunity to rethink our understanding of how local government operates. By pooling together government resources and giving true meaning to cooperative governance, the DDM is a game changer in the development of our local government sphere. It has also exposed the very real problem that not all local municipalities are viable on their own. We must consider the role that the Municipal Demarcation Board plays in transforming the spatial outlay of our country and solving this problem.

The IMDA Bill represents a culmination of engagements with all local government stakeholders over many years. The amendments have been sponsored, in the main, by the Board and are informed by:

  • Inputs from previous Boards;
  • Lessons learned from previous redetermination and ward delimitation processes;
  • Litigation; and
  • Inputs from various stakeholders in various forums.

The Bill encompasses several interventions that will bring about much-needed improvements on demarcation and delimitation processes. Allow me to mention a few:

Improved public participation

Programme Director, the National Development Plan calls for the need to actively support and incentivise citizen engagement. It notes that in general, many participatory processes are often standard, and compliance-driven. The Constitutional Court, in its 2005 judgment in the matter between Matatiele Municipality and Others vs the President of the Republic of South Africa and Others, was clear on the requirement to engage communities and other stakeholders in any government process requiring consultation. This kind of consultation is also critical during municipal boundary redeterminations and ward delimitations. Of importance, the Bill provides for more extensive public participation and stakeholder consultation for any demarcation or delimitation and clearly outlines the processes that the Board must follow when conducting these functions.

To further strengthen community and stakeholder participation, the Bill makes it a requirement that the views of the people must be considered.

I like, in particular, Clause 29(8) of the Bill which states the Authority must explain the purpose and procedure for the public consultative meeting and the determination or redetermination of any municipal boundary process. The Authority must also allow any person present at the public consultative meeting to make oral representations on his or her proposal for the determination or redetermination of a municipal boundary; allow members of the public to deliberate on the issues raised; provide more information on the issue under consideration; and respond to relevant questions. This will ensure that members of the public are well-vested in the procedure to be followed and that their views and inputs are heard.

Essentially, Programme Director, the Bill requires that public participation may take place through appropriate structures that represent communities, and through means that maximise public participation, including the use of virtual platforms. Virtual platforms, which emerged during covid-19 pandemic, have also now expanded the means by which the Board can enhance public participation. To further elaborate on this, it would be advisable for the Board to explore other social media platforms where youth can be accessible.

Frequency of major boundary determination

The Bill ensures that major demarcations, which affect the movement of more than one whole ward in a municipality, may be done only after every ten years. The frequency of determinations in the past would cause disruptions, not only in 5-year municipal planning but in the affected communities. The introduction of ten years also minimises disruptions to the process of preparations for Municipal Elections, since the delineation of voting districts by the Electoral Commission is reliant on the timeous finalisation of the ward delimitations. Municipalities will also be afforded enough time to implement their plans without any disruption.

Introduction of the Demarcation Appeals Authority 

Programme Director, the third key feature of the Bill relates to the establishment of the Demarcation Appeals Authority to deal with appeals since the current Act does not provide for an appeal mechanism or dispute resolution process against the decisions of the Board, except for aggrieved persons to approach the courts to review the decisions of the Board. The Appeals Authority will allow stakeholders to make representations to an independent authority.

This will limit or reduce costly litigations and community unrest as a result of dissatisfaction with the decisions of the Board. This will obviate situations similar to the case of Vuwani in the Limpopo Province.

Programme Director, the establishment of the Demarcation Appeals Authority is in line with provisions of administrative justice. At its core, administrative justice is about ensuring that public bodies and those who exercise public functions make legally supportable, reasoned, timely, procedurally fair, and intelligible decisions about matters involving citizens.

Splitting of communities 

There has always been an outcry that the demarcation of municipal boundaries and the delimitation of wards split communities, in certain instances splitting households. The traditional communal lands and rural villages were often split by municipal boundaries which failed to follow complex social boundaries. The contest between the government and traditional governance over land resulted in an escalation of disputes.

Programme Director, the outcry is justified within the context of disregarding the dire need for social cohesion. Municipal boundaries can play a vital role in social cohesion by integrating divided communities. In an effort to address this challenge, we have introduced in the Bill a provision allowing the Board to deviate from the present norm of 15% to 30%, when delimiting wards, but within strict conditions to avoid the splitting of communities.

Traditional communities and the Traditional Authorities that oversee them are often affected by the demarcation and delimitation processes. These institutions are an important part of our democracy. They must be afforded the necessary respect in our decision-making processes that will allow for better cooperation between municipalities and Traditional Authorities. I am convinced that, with the above-mentioned latitude, the challenge of splitting of areas of Traditional Authority or communities will also be averted.

Having said that, we must also be cognisant of the society we want to create. We must desist from creating spaces that are exclusive like the previous dispensation did. We must be inclusive and progressive in the way we tackle this issue without being disrespectful of the very real needs of traditional communities.

Municipal capacity assessments

Programme Director, the current two-tier system was introduced on the premise that district municipalities will be coordinating and building capacity over local municipalities; this has proven to be a challenge in most cases. The question is, should we allocate more functions to the district municipalities or the local municipalities? I think the colloquium should also strive to deliberate on this long outstanding matter.

The issue of inadequate service delivery will continue to prevail unless there is a proper capacity assessment of the abilities of municipalities to perform their functions. This challenge necessitated that a provision in the Bill be included to require the Board to now conduct municipal capacity assessments for all municipalities within a specified period.  We believe that this will result in improved service delivery through an informed allocation of powers and functions. More so when the Minister requests the Board to conduct assessments when authorising municipalities to perform the BIG 4 functions, that is –

  • Potable water;
  • Bulk supply of electricity.
  • Domestic water and sewage disposal systems; and
  • Municipal health services.

Programme Director, the Board’s capacity assessments are a vital tool in building a capable and developmental state. Therefore, the emphasis should be on identifying the capacity of municipalities to govern and provide services. Powers and functions should be vested in municipalities with the capacity to perform.

Alignment of the term of the Board to term of the council

It is important to clarify that, in the Bill, the term of office of members of the Board will be aligned with the term of municipal councils, to be calculated from the date of appointment by the President but may not exceed a period ending six months into the commencement of the term of the Municipal Councils, after which the Board members are appointed. This is to ensure that a single Board is responsible for the entire process of determining or redetermining municipal boundaries, as well as delimiting wards in preparation for a general election of all municipal councils. The rationality is that the Board that has started a function must also complete it. In that sense, there will be a seamless completion of the municipal boundary demarcation process.

There has been a robust debate during consultations on the Bill as to when the six-month commences. Others were of the view that this would be a staggered process since municipal councils were constituted at different times. To clear the air, programme director, the amendments to the Municipal Structures Act, clarified when the Council commences its term, which is the date of the declaration of results by the Electoral Commission is the date of commencement of municipal councils. Therefore, the six-month period will commence on the date the municipal election results are pronounced by the Electoral Commission.

Independence of the Board

Programme Director, there should be no confusion about the request made by the Minister or MEC for local government or other statutory bodies for the redetermination of municipal boundaries with the independence of the Board, as it used to happen in the past.  It should be categorically stated that the Board is solely responsible and accountable for the determination or redetermination of both outer and inner boundaries, in terms of the Constitution and the enabling legislation.

The renaming of the Municipal Demarcation Board to be referred to as the Independent Municipal Demarcation Authority is not a mere change of name. Section 155(3)(b) of the Constitution requires that national legislation must “establish criteria and procedures for the determination of municipal boundaries by an independent authority”. Therefore, the independence of the Board is guaranteed by the Constitution.

It is essential that the Board must perform its functions without favour or prejudice when performing its four major functions. That is: the determination or redetermination of municipal boundaries; the delimitation of wards for all municipalities that must have wards; rendering an advisory service; as well as conducting municipal capacity assessments.

We urge the Board to ensure that what is envisaged in the Constitution is what the community will experience and witness when performing its functions.

Demarcation Timeframes 

Programme Director, preparations for the local government elections are now well covered in this Bill. The Minister may, after consultation with the MECs for local government and the Authority, determine priorities and reasonable timeframes for a determination or redetermination of municipal boundaries.  Such priorities and timeframes must be concluded and communicated to the Authority at least three years before the earliest possible date for the next local government elections.

Now the determination of the formulae for the number of councillors by the Minister, the determination of the number of councillors by the MECs, the ward delimitations by the Board, and the delimitation of voting districts by the electoral commission will follow strict timeframes thus ensuring smooth and seamless municipal elections.

Utilising our Legislative Tools Effectively

Programme Director, as a department, we are capacitated to make certain decisions to ensure that our people receive the services they are guaranteed in our constitution.

We have to begin to utilize these tools to effectively deliver these services. Use of the Section 12 establishment notices to better effect where the municipalities that are dysfunctional, or heading towards dysfunctionality, are not showing results of improvement, is one of the ways we can intervene from a legislative standpoint. The stakes are too high at a local government level for us to be as reactive as we have been for the past 20 years. This is especially true where human capital is scarce as this has a direct impact on the core mandate of service delivery. Restructuring a municipality to make it more viable is a drastic step yes, but it offers us an opportunity to save the municipality from complete collapse.

Furthermore, the repositioning of the Municipal Demarcation Board, it should facilitate greater collaboration and coordination among municipalities. By fostering partnerships and sharing best practices, it will help break down silos and bridge divides, ensuring that no community is left behind in our collective pursuit of progress.

Topical issues (Provincial Boundaries & Impact of amalgamation)

Programme Director, notwithstanding that the matter of provincial boundaries does not fall within the mandate of the Board, this is a bone of contention since provincial boundaries impact on municipal boundaries. So, the stability of provincial boundaries is critical to ensure noncontinuous alteration of municipal outer boundaries. We therefore need to converse on this matter and find a sustainable solution.

We also need to be wary of conducting municipal boundary demarcations merely because of governance and political issues. Our experience with municipal amalgamations bears testimony to this notion. Some mergers ended up making municipalities worse than they were before. Some of the generic impacts of mergers include:

  • Increased staff costs because of the rationalization of salaries and allowances as a result of the upward grading of municipalities – taking a toll on the budgets of the new entities;
  • Inadequate funding for the relocation and placement costs presents a formidable challenge often resulting in labour unrest in most of the newly established municipalities; and
  • Reduced equitable share whilst cost increased due to expectation by communities that services will be improved.

The above-mentioned issues need to be addressed as a collective, with role-players like SALGA and local labour for coming to the table as part of the solutions to some of these issues.

Closing

Programme Director, in conclusion, we firmly believe that the provisions and interventions that are contained in the Bill will yield positive results and outcomes as far as demarcation processes are concerned. It is my wish that this colloquium is successful in its deliberations. Hopefully, the views and wisdom of our panelists will enhance our demarcation processes.

The work of the Municipal Demarcation Board is not just measured in terms of infrastructure or administrative boundaries, but in the lives transformed and futures secured. As we chart the course for the years ahead, let us remain steadfast in our commitment to building communities that are worthy of the dreams and aspirations of all our citizens.

THANK YOU!