Political will crucial after precedent-setting ruling
Publish date: 20 January 2020
Issue Number: 4857
Diary: Legalbrief Today
Category: Local government
Eastern Cape High Court (Makhanda) Judge Igna Stretch’s order that the provincial government dissolve the Makana Municipality and go to fresh elections in 90 days has been hailed by the applicants as precedent-setting. It is ‘expected to open the door for judicial intervention in other institutions of local government, the coalface of service delivery,’ says political writer Claudi Mailovich, in her analysis of the ruling in Business Day. Mailovich adds that this is important as the Makana municipal service delivery woes are not unique, with local governance being in a ‘dire’ state across the country. ‘It was as a result of the poor governance in Makhanda that the Unemployed People’s Movement asked the High Court in 2019 to intervene in the affairs of the municipality after struggling for years for better services.’ The application, she adds, was based on the rights that the people of Makhanda have to a healthy environment, health care, food, water and social security. The court was asked to declare that the municipality failed to fulfil its executive duties and to compel the province to place it under administration and dissolve the entire council. In ordering costs against the respondents – which include the Premier of the Eastern Cape, and the mayor and municipal manager in their personal capacities – Stretch ruled it was clear from the evidence that the respondents had been ‘resting on their laurels for an inordinately lengthy period of time’, which was a direct and substantial prejudice to the people of Makhanda. ‘I have no doubt that, but for the resolute and determined intervention of the applicant in launching this application on behalf of the citizens of Makhanda, ‘‘same old, same old’’ would have remained the order of the day, with Makhanda continuing to deteriorate at the rate it has been doing,’ Stretch said. However, Mailovich quotes Outa’s Julius Kleynhans, who said he did not believe the judgment and its effects would make a difference – a view given substance by reports that the Eastern Cape government is already considering appealing. In any event, notes Mailovich, it would once again be the same politicians up for re-election in 90 days’ time, while the oversight and intervention mechanisms would still be dealt with by the same provincial government. While she accepts that true change in SA’s local government sphere will need more political will, she says residents will now have a High Court judgment to rely on.