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REVITALISING SMALL TOWNS:

In the end, individual people will ultimately make the difference; it is your personal choice

A resounding revelation has emerged after extensive visits to thriving municipalities to uncover their success strategies, collaborations with less prosperous counterparts, and a comprehensive review of dialogues regarding municipal performance. The crux of the matter lies within the realm of people and leadership. The familiar challenges stemming from underperforming local governments have left us with an imperative, one that calls for action rather than perpetual diagnosis.



A recurring theme echoes throughout interactions within the Local Government sector: a pressing need for collaborative efforts among communities, businesses, and NGOs to reclaim agency from governmental bodies. This participatory approach, essential for shaping local futures, seeks to counterbalance local governments’ perceived abuse of privileges, propelling communities to engage actively in local governance.

The recent emergence of independent candidates in local government elections raises intriguing possibilities. Could this signal a resurgence of community-driven governance, bolstering the ability to tailor destinies according to communal aspirations? The question arises whether communities yearn for councillors deeply embedded within their communities, capable of addressing their needs, as opposed to the prevailing cohort controlled by political entities.

Professor Themba Maseko underscores the vitality of enhanced collaboration between communities and local municipalities. This partnership entails mutual responsibility and accountability, yielding improved community outcomes. The presence of dedicated and engaged councillors can facilitate this transformation to radical collaboration.

However, the road to effective collaboration also necessitates shifts within communities themselves. First, communities must select councillors driven by community-centric values, transcending political affiliations, and appoint adept officials to realize municipal mandates. Second, communities must cultivate a cohesive structure conducive to meaningful deliberate collaboration with municipalities.

In addition, electoral reform is worthy of consideration to foster community-centric development and stakeholder collaboration. Strengthening the influence of independent candidates while curbing the influence of proportional representation councillors could invigorate direct accountability between voters and representatives, reducing political party influence.

That said, authentic radical collaboration hinges on trust and respect among all parties involved. Presently, a growing level of distrust between communities, businesses, and governments hampers collaboration. All stakeholders need to be empowered to participate in meaningful collaboration. The restoration of municipal credibility is paramount for this outcome, a prerequisite for becoming a reliable equal collaboration partner. This demands a shift in municipal leadership paradigms, prioritizing community-centric service delivery over political allegiances and improving municipal institutional performance.

Central to the discourse is the readiness of current political and administrative leaders to transcend party politics and cadre deployment and adopt community centricity. This must result in appointing qualified capable officials aligned with community interests and the ability to lead municipalities to a more purposeful culture. Successful municipalities have also showcased the efficacy of separating councillor and administration roles and responsibilities, diminishing political intervention, promoting enhanced agency for municipal managers to manage their municipalities and improving oversight of municipal performance from councillors.

In addition, and to promote the organizational change desired for municipalities, government support agents, such as provincial and national departments, must reevaluate their approach to support and oversight. Addressing root causes, such as people’s capabilities and institutional culture, should supersede symptomatic fixes like debt recovery, revenue management strategy, and service delivery deficiency. Addressing symptoms will, at best, result in short-term impact.

Addressing municipal performance cannot exclude the important relationship between corruption and social justice, an outcome of better service delivery. Every misappropriated rand undermines the state’s capacity to address marginalized communities’ social justice struggles. Radical collaboration between all stakeholders, including the municipality, must adopt a zero-tolerance stance on corruption, demanding accountability from all wrongdoers. This will free up the resources to address community infrastructure development needs. To support the infrastructure redressing needs to bridge the social justice gap and promote local business retention Alan Mukoki, CEO of the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry, underscores the imperative of radical collaboration between businesses and local governments to enhance infrastructure, service delivery and development. This partnership should empower municipalities to deliver rather than supplant their responsibilities, ultimately benefiting the community.

The looming trend of failing small-town economies underscores the urgency for radical collaboration and small-town rejuvenation. Departing businesses and resourceful residents exacerbate marginalization, leaving struggling communities devoid of resources, options, and hope. Collaborative efforts must transcend challenges, focusing on infrastructure maintenance and service delivery to retain and attract local businesses that will provide communities with work opportunities and grow municipal tax bases enabling local sustainability.

The Makana Circle of Unity’s progress serves as a beacon of hope for small towns. Collaboration between the community stakeholders and the municipality, rather than against the municipality, yields positive results. While change is gradual, fostering collaboration amid historical mistrust holds promise and is worth pursuing. The stark reality is that collaboration faces opposition from many stakeholders preferring chaotic polarised environments that serve their individual agendas. Communities must not fall victim to these leaders and persist in serving the greater good for all. Radical Collaboration starts with early adopters who gradually influence more stakeholders to subscribe to collaboration as success is realised.

As Charles Darwin aptly put it, survival hinges not on strength alone but adaptability. The call for rejuvenating small towns is anchored in a personal and institutional transformational shift, one reliant on purpose, collective efforts, community centrality, and unwavering radical collaboration between community and local government.

Written by Paul Smith | BizNews

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