Mbizana mapping: Promoting grassroots democracy and sustainable livelihoods
Introductory Remarks at a workshop held to launch the Mbizana Municipality Local Governance Report
Dr Alain Tschudin – Executive Director, Good Governance Africa
Esteemed dignitaries, special guests, participants and colleagues,
On behalf of the team at GGA, and our collaborators at the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation, I would like to extend a warm welcome to all. We trust that today will be a fruitful investment of your time and we look forward to your participation, which we hope will be rigorous and sustained.
Vox populi, vox dei so the old saying goes. The voice of the people is the voice of God. Perhaps no longer expressed in explicitly theological terms, the notion of the voice of the people is still embued with a divine power of sorts, at least in an ideal democracy. The keystone of a democracy rests on citizen voice and participation in government and the state of its health can be diagnosed by the breadth and depth of citizen participation, conceived of both as a right and as a responsibility.
In the real world, and especially in states transitioning from conflict to democracy, participatory democracy is often aspirational. In a country such as South Africa, technically beyond that window, albeit still wracked with the aftermath of an imperfect and incomplete transition, participatory democracy is tricky, and at times, very costly. Think of Andries Tatane, and the many others like him who have taken a stand that, ultimately, has cost them their lives.
Accountability towards such perpetrators and their crimes remains a pipe dream, with justice in such instances being not only blind, but apparently deaf and mute as well. But then again, in a country where our research with a nationally representative sample showed that only 14% of participants believed the government to be completely accountable, ought we to be surprised? Add to this the related statistic that over 56% had given up hope that the government would listen to them, and the iconic picture of 1994, of that euphoric new South Africa, darling of the world, does not seem so rosy. Our people are suffering, some more so than ever, while many of our leaders, crooked and venomous as mambas, continue to espouse bad governance as they slither along on their bellies. Instead of the voice of God, we hear only the sound of silence.
Without the participation of the people, how can we even get to governance concepts such as accountability, transparency, responsibility, equality under law, democratic freedoms, and the rule of law? Voice is a precondition for it all.
Hence we undertook to give voice back to the people and elected to do so in the Mbizana local municipality, Eastern Cape. We made our choice for two reasons. Firstly, chronologically, based on the finding, according to publically available data ranked in 2015-2016 that placed Mbizana as the lowest-performing municipality in South Africa, placed 234 out of 234. Secondly, and perhaps more shockingly, because it is the home of Oliver Tambo, predecessor of Nelson Mandela, whose centenary we celebrate this year. Concerned to a) improve local governance and b) pay homage to ORT, we undertook to get out of the office, roll up our sleeves, muck in at grassroots level and ask the people, all the way from ORT’s home village of Nkantolo to the town of Bizana, the municipal capital, for their inputs.
After all, our mission is to “improve the lives of all citizens”, so where better to start than in a place like this? This place is not only deeply symbolic, but also reflects the picture of reality; Tambo was educated here, the Mandelas (Nelson and Winnie) were married here. The soil is not only fertile in literal terms but has produced a disproportonate number of patriots, and is rich in popular self-consciousness.
So it is that the Mbizana mapping represents an exploratory – and an extraordinary – exercise in participatory democracy. We had no preconceived ideas, and did not know what to expect when we set out. We had some ideas of what might exist, but these were based on data and on reports from investigative journalists. At the grassroots level, and to use my colleague Dr Leif Petersen’s jingle, we needed to engage in “ground truthing”.
As a team, and in consensus with our partners, I believe that we are satisfied that we have achieved this initial goal; after a process of almost eight months, close on 1,000 citizen surveys conducted along a 32km tract of road, with surveys of over 100 small businesses and waypointing of over 200 agricultural sites, in-depth interviews with leaders and feedback sessions from focus group discussions with more than 120 citizen participants; detailed quantitative and qualitative analysis, culminating in the report that we are unpacking today for further discussion and dissemination.
In the light of our experiences, I should add that it is not only the voice of the “governed” but of “governors” that also matters. On this exercise, while we enjoyed some solidarity from members of the municipality, we suffered gatekeeping and spoiling by others, including Her Worship the Mayor. Much as we extended an invitation to the municipality to attend today, we still await the courtesy of a reply.
I will now hand over to my collaborators, our lead researcher on this aspect of the Local Governance programme, Mr Lukhona Mnguni, and Dr Leif Petersen, Director of the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation, to share the specifics of the citizen survey and small business survey respectively. I should mention, concerning the latter, that a number of years ago, the mayor of a Dutch municipality sponsoring some work in the Western Cape asked me, when pitching the research, “And what about putting bread on the table, will it do that?”
In the applied social sciences, and especially in the field of governance, we must undertake to improve not only lives, but livelihoods, since ours is the space that lies between politics and development. Without the material stuff of life, it becomes incredibly difficult to talk about wonderful immaterial concepts such as values, morals and actualisation of potential. If the national perceptions survey, the GPI and the Voter Sentiment Survey were CAT scans revealing structural anomalies, the Mbizana mapping is like a functional MRI. We don’t do what we do for abstraction’s sake, but rather to make a meaningful difference and promote positive change through generating and sharing fact-based knowledge.
So bearing this in mind, I now hand over to my capable colleagues to take us forward. I am delighted that you are sharing this journey with us, now let us buckle up for the ride ahead. (Click on the video below for a view of the study area.)
Below is a video of lead researcher Lukhona Mnguni discussing the findings of the Mbizana Municipality Local Governance Report in Johannesburg, South Africa on October 10 2017.
In the video below, Dr Leif Petersen, Director of the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation, presents the results of a study into businesses operating in the Mbizana Municipality.</>
Strengthening local agency in an age of patronage
When faced with choosing a topic that reflected the reality of the people with whom we worked on the Mbizana mapping – both citizens and officials – we settled on the notion that agency remains key to empowerment. Mindful of the opening remarks on voice and participatory democracy, we are faced with people’s daily life choices of being active, or passive; of steering their own fate or of being herded or proded along. Steven Bantu Biko’s rally cry that “the greatest weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed” springs to mind. Only now the new oppressors are at work in their own home communities, content to live off those who need liberation the most.
The maturity of a democracy is attested to by the strength of its local governance and the significance attached to grassroots communities and their administration. This was confirmed in our nationally representative 2016 Voter Sentiment Survey in which respondents regarded the level of local governance as more significant than national governance, albeit by a narrow margin of 45% to 42%. Previous work that we carried in Africa in Fact, Issue 36, further confirmed the state of affairs concerning local governance, where Markdata found that people did not rate their ward councillors at all highly, with none receiving as high a score of 4/10. In the lowest LSMs, ratings were even lower. If this was a school report card, how would these individuals be faring? Well, at university they wouldn’t even qualify to sit the exam. Something needs to be done, and urgently, at that.
The third aspect of our topic for the afternoon is patronage. Stuart Theobald wrote in the October 9 issue of Business Day that, “The Guptas may be finding it difficult to extract cash from the political patronage machine”. And this is exactly how patronage works, like a mechanical device, with its cogs churning and grinding away; not just at the highest levels of government as affected by the ranks of the family in question, but concerningly for us, at the level of the daily and the mundane, in ordinary communities like Mbizana and hundreds of others like it. Perhaps it is here, among ward councillors and local officials bent on flexing their petty muscle, that the typical citizen runs up against the luck of the draw most profoundly: either you have a councillor who champions the cause of public service or one who furthers self-interest, bent on amassing wealth and resources while the cycle of power permits.
It is thus that we have convened a panel on a theme that we reckon to be highly topical. Without any further ado, I would like to hand over to our esteemed panel members to take the conversation forward.
Thanks to all of our participants for attending and for sticking it out to the bitter end. Your enthusiastic input and active participation, dare we say agency, has been invaluable in terms of consolidating the gains made in our Mbizana mapping. The sustained dialogue shifts the goal posts of local governance in the direction of the good and helps us to drive the ball forward. Last, but not least, I would like to extend sincere thanks to our esteemed panellists, the GGA Team, to Dr Leif Petersen and colleagues at the Sustainable Livelihoods Foundation, Ms Camilla Thorogood, Dr Vaughan Dutton of Oxford University, Mr Lukhona Mnguni and all of those who made this work possible and who continue to do so. The reimagination of governance and development continues, and with it the betterment of all citizens’ lives.
(You can download the full Mbizana Municipality Local Governance Report here.)