When Lewis Hamilton, an icon of excellence in Formula 1 Motorsport, had his 8th title “stolen” right under his nose, there was a loud uproar from many across the globe.
This was the perfect moment to revolt against the entire Motorsport fraternity because the expected result was not attained.
The outcome of the Formula 1 championship, which took a whole season to reach the finale, only to have a new but unexpected champion, mirrors the outcome of the local government election results in South Africa.
The new champion, Max Verstappen, literally upset the perfect photo finish to the year. This is perhaps how the outcome of the local government elections may seem to many. Is this the outcome that we expected? Are we getting the right people? Are we moving forward or backwards?
These are the questions some may be asking. South Africa is a toddler in matters of constitutional democratic governance, with a constitution that is only 25 years old and a local government system that is 23 years young.
Ours may be a young Constitution, but it has faced several challenges and tests through the judicial system, with well-drafted legislation that is held against the high standard of constitutional supremacy. The most well-known and the oldest constitutional democracy in the world has been in existence for over 233 years, with a constitution that was written and ratified in the year 1788 and put into operation in 1789. Despite its long-standing reputation, the US constitution continues to be tested to this day but remains a prominent feature of American democracy. We have a long way to go, but we are on a good track with the right set of tyres.
Despite the longer than usual time it has taken to constitute councils across the country, we should be hopeful we have weathered the storms that were blowing against our young and resilient democracy. The new municipal councils face unprecedented challenges, where there is no historical precedence to learn from.
To weather the storms ahead, these seemingly delicate formations, better known as coalition governments, should observe four key principles to help them navigate successfully through the uncharted terrain.
Their sustainability lies in their ability to “fail fast but fail forward” by applying good governance principles, post-heroic leadership, putting the people of South Africa first and managing the “municipal kitty” well.
Exemplary governance by the newly elected councillors is perhaps the cornerstone of this new form of governing municipalities.
Noting that several councillors in this cohort are entering this sphere of government for the first time, and as such, they will have a steep learning curve and must expeditiously come up to speed with all precepts that constitute local government.
These range from the Municipal Demarcation Act, Municipal Structures Act, Municipal Systems Act, Municipal Finance Management Act and the other Acts that define the “rules of the game” of local government.
New councillors must demonstrate competence in following processes and applying these rules.
The mantra for the new councillors should be: “Rules are rules, all of us follow these rules, we shall defend and improve these rules whether we are in the office or out of office.”
The new councillors must be the catalysts of change and should sooner be in a proud position of presiding over well-run municipalities.
These new leaders, particularly those from the ANC, are probably the first to have been selected through an interview process. We can only assume that the interviews were rigorous and stringent in selecting the right candidates. It is our hope that the new councillors do possess leadership skills that are superior to the challenges that exist in local government.
The sustainability of these coalitions will depend on the quality of leaders and the collective leadership thereof. I would posit that the new councillors must have a visible semblance of post-heroic leadership traits that are ingrained in their functional interaction with issues, people, and resources. The difference between a leader in title and a post-heroic leader is the mindset and style of leadership.
A post-heroic leader is defined in the Harvard Business Review of 2015 as a leader who recognises that the key to success is not adhering to hierarchy but mastering a complex set of seemingly contradictory organisational dynamics. We need post-heroic leaders who will recognise that the conditions of coalitions are imperfect but must work for the betterment of the communities and their people.
A government exists because of the people who voted for it in the first place. This new municipal government gains its legitimacy and mandate from all the people of South Africa.
The citizens who voted, and those who did not, have spoken through a singular voice that pronounced this municipal government into being.
The new government must, without fail and prejudice, serve the people and not the other way round.
We need a government that will return to the foundation of “Batho Pele” (people first) and all other things thereafter. To some leaders, the Batho Pele principle represents an echo of the past, but to the citizens, this is what they hunger and thirst for.
Service delivery is not a favour that is being done for citizens. It is an imperative that must be a reality.
The actual champion here is neither one of the political parties but our constitutional democracy.
We can go to bed and wake up to any result on the election scoreboard, but what is important is that the Constitution that we have will take us forward. This is our opportunity to write a new chapter in this long and unpredictable race of democracy.
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