It’s rather worrying when a Constitutional Court judgment creates ‘some confusion’ in government about the department responsible for giving effect to the order concerned. But that was apparently what happened when, in 2017, the court found the 2011 Local Government: Municipal Systems Amendment Act invalid. Which is why it took nearly two years for the required amendment Bill to be tabled in Parliament – at least according to a media statement from Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Zweli Mkhize.

The Act was declared invalid because the Bill concerned was incorrectly classified as section 75 legislation (ordinary Bills) instead of section 76 (Bills affecting the provinces) and therefore processed without the involvement of the provincial legislatures. So, how on earth did the Minister and/or his department expect Parliament to follow the necessary procedures in the six weeks available when the amendment Bill was tabled on 7 February? In anticipation of the 8 May elections, the National Assembly is scheduled to rise on 20 March and the NCOP a week later.

The statement tends to suggest the Bill’s tabling at the eleventh hour was a formality and that it was always the department’s intention to apply to the court for another twelve months to process it. But here’s the rub: local government has been in crisis for decades, hence the need for a turn-around strategy. The accountability of municipal managers (or, possibly, their lack of it) is widely perceived to be at the root of the problems besetting most local authorities: an issue the invalid Act was expected to address by empowering the Minister to make the necessary regulations.

To sum up: 1) the crisis in local government prompted national government to begin implementing a turn-around strategy in 2009; 2) the 2011 amendment Act was supposed to give the Minister the teeth to hold municipal managers accountable; 3) in 2017 the Act was declared invalid by the Constitutional Court; 4) a replacement Act should have been in force by March this year (2019); and 5) it isn’t. If you look at the judgment, it’s perfectly obvious who should be taken to task. Yet municipalities are being told they ‘should not panic as this is not one of those situations where the Act was already in place and its suspension would … lead to a lacuna or vacuum’.

Really? Things are literally falling apart under some local authorities. If the municipalities themselves aren’t panicking, the unfortunate folk living in them probably are.

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