Political party kingmakers embrace move to increase small councils
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SMALLER parties in three Western Cape municipalities with seven councillors are chomping at the bit at the prospect of an increase in the number of councillors – despite the law not affecting upcoming elections.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has declared that the Municipal Structures Amendment Act, will come into effect on November 1. The act seeks to strengthen governance in the country’s 278 municipalities. Among some of the provisions is the requirement that municipalities should have a minimum of 10 instead of the previous three and no more than 90 councillors. In the Western Cape municipalities such as Kannaland, Laingsburg and Prince Albert each have seven seats.
The Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC’s) Western Cape head, Michael Hendrikse, says that, while the law comes into effect on November 1, it will not affect the elections taking place that day.
Typically, the Municipal Demarcation Board will determine the number of wards each municipality will have, based on the population size. At times wards are broken up or amalgamated based on a process that can take place sometimes two years before an election. And seats on councils are split on a 50/50 basis with half going to wards and the rest to proportional seats.
The department of local government’s spokesperson Rowena Kellies says the increase in size will have implications for the make-up of these municipalities.
“Some of the implications are additional salary and operational costs for the affected municipalities, there might be a need that in some cases that the Council chambers will have to be made bigger,” she said.
Goliath Lottering, mayor of Prince Albert Municipality and leader of the Karoo Gemeenskap Party, which governs with the ANC, says an increase in councillors will be welcomed.
Currently, the municipality is made up of four ward councillors and three proportional representation councillors. And because of the low numbers they do not have a mayoral committee.
“It would mean more effective public participation in the new councillors that would represent communities in council,” he said.
“Currently, we have four wards of which ward four is the biggest with 2 600 plus voters while the others have around 1 800 each, so if there were to be a ward split it would be that one.
“It is a move we welcome and as a party we have been campaigning very hard and will be contesting all four municipalities including the Central Karoo District Municipality where I will stand as its mayoral candidate.”
Ricardo Louw, mayor at Laingsburg municipality who is a member of the Karoo Ontwikkeling Party (KOP) says the possibility of a ward consisting of 10 seats may mean a change in the kingmaker.
Since 2016, the KOP has chopped and changed its coalition partnership between ANC and DA at least six times, an act Louw says is to keep the major parties on their toes.
“Ward four is currently the biggest ward and if it were broken up it gives us an opportunity to have more than one seat and have more say in council,” he said.
“We intend to contest wards in Prince Albert and the district where we hope to increase our support.”
KOP won their seat with a little over 200 votes but were the kingmakers who swapped mayors three times in five years.
Kannaland local government, which has been marred by controversy and court battles, could increase their support base in the area. The Independent Civic Organisation of South Africa, who are the kingmakers have three seats while the ANC and DA have two each.
The DA’s spokesperson on local government in the provincial legislature, Derrick America, says the smaller councils generally lead to coalition governments, which are problematic at times.
“Noting that it is often difficult for a single party to obtain a majority on their own, coalitions are often the outcome of municipal elections. Hence the sometimes instability of such councils,” he said.
“Given the small revenue base of these councils, who are mostly reliant on transfers from the national and provincial departments, increasing the number of councillors will add further financial burden on these municipalities.
“Any extra costs that are incurred with the expansion of these councils, can best be spent on delivering services to the people of these councils. Therefore, in our submission to the national department and the NCOP (National Council of Provinces) we did not support this particular clause.”
Local government expert and director of the Dullah Omar Institute, Professor Jaap de Visser, says coalitions are inevitable for some councils, whether they have seven or ten councillors.
“Our electoral system produces them and unfortunately parties are not good at managing them because they are based on opportunism and access to powers,” he said.