We’re tired of talking about the crisis facing South Africa’s municipalities. As the Financial Mail noted recently: “For the past 10 years, Ratings Afrika has been warning of the pending financial collapse of SA’s municipal sector. Over time its warnings have become increasingly shrill. In its latest report they reach fever pitch.” 

The same could be said for the office of our Auditor-General. 

On Wednesday last week our AG Tsakani Maluleke announced the latest numbers: only 16% of SA’s 257 municipalities received clean audits for the 2020-21 financial year. A whole 16% 😱

The worst-performing provinces were the Free State and North West, which didn’t submit a single clean audit. 

Perhaps the most shocking revelation is how much worse municipalities are performing under President Ramaphosa than they were in Jacob Zuma’s final year in office. 

In June 2017, eight municipalities were under administration or provincial intervention. Three years later, that number almost tripled to 23. 

In Ramaphosa’s defence, though, we have been torn apart by a global pandemic, and he did inherit a poisoned chalice in terms of our “junk status” economy (which has improved since). Not to mention, he’s in charge of national governance. But Ramaphosa promised to lead us to a “New Dawn” and, almost four years later, South Africa is still in darkness (no, we’re not talking about Eskom). More focus is needed on local government, which is too often run like personal fiefdoms for corrupt local officials. 

The last time we had a “promising” municipal audit was in the 2015-2016 audit report when then AG, the late Thembekile “Kimi” Makwetu, reported marginal improvements in local

government audit results. We need to figure out what went right there, and how we repeat and scale that success. 

It’s also worth looking at the best performing province in the country: the DA-run Western Cape with 22 clean audits. Credit where it’s due: kudos to the technocrats in the DA who are still keeping the party on track with its promise to showcase its governance – even if its public-facing leaders keep making voter-alienating gaffes. What can we learn from the guys in blue running the municipalities?
We’ve understandably been focused on national problems. Now that the final part of the Zondo report is in and we’re getting more on top of corruption at a grand level, it’s time we turn our attention to the everyday cases of malfeasance – the ones with the greatest potential to ruin towns, communities and local businesses.