The three spheres of government (national, provincial and local) function distinctively, interdependently, and interrelatedly in our society [A Botha]. I think that the various tiers/spheres allow for a more detailed - and thus, more accurate - representation of what "the people" want.
The 2016 municipal (local) elections allowed each person either two or three votes:
- People living within a metropolitan municipality (eg. Cape Town) cast only two votes - one for their ward counsellor, and one for the metropolitan municipality.
- People living outside metropolitan municipalities (eg. Stellenbosch) vote for their ward counsellor, their district municipality, and their closest metropolitan municipality.
What is the value of casting more than one vote? Is it not a given that everyone will vote for the same party at each opportunity?
Ward counsellors may be a more personal and area-specific choice than the party one would choose to run their metropolitan. As discussed tonight, rural areas may desire/need a more socialist approach to governance, but still want their major cities/metropolitan/the greater South Africa run by a more democratic or capitalist party. This is where the separate votes gain their value - people have their voice heard in respect of both basic needs provision (wards & districts) and more aspirational/forward-thinking needs (metropolitans, and eventually, provincial councils).
There is, to a certain degree, a restriction of the will of the people. Because parties contest so tightly on so many levels, there may be an unwilling attitude towards collaborating (or forming coalitions) for the greater good, and that leaves a gap for poor service delivery and blame-shifting. The first pastor post system of electing ward counsellors means that one person represents a large area, and minority voices are not heard at all. The proportionate representation system, however, includes all voices (in their relevant proportions) and is more representative of what the people want.
To a certain extent, I do believe that the separation of powers works effectively and to South Africa's advantage. The constant rivalry and competition keeps leaders accountable to one another and the country and (mostly) ensures that they are constantly striving to do better for themselves and the country at large. Some political parties are also more effective at leading and governing larger areas than others. In this sense, I think the separation of powers is healthy for our democracy.
What can be improved is the influence that national politics has on local elections, and the effect of this on the provision of services. An example is the Nkandla scandal that heavily tarnished the ANC's reputation nationally, and lead to the ANC losing a lot of local municipalities. A party is thus affected by their national reputation at every level of elections. They are voted for (or not voted for) based on previous success on differing and incomparable bases.
The separation of legislation, the executive, and the judiciary within each branch is so important, and effective. For example, the mechanism of chapter 9 institutions (legislation) holding the government (executive) accountable to the constitution. This illustrates how no one branch can become corrupt or take control, as they hold each other accountable. It is successful in the sense that, for example, Thuli Madonsela was able to convict and expose Jacob Zuma for excessive spending on his homestead, but not yet effective because he continued as president and survived the calls for impeachment. Insufficient action was taken to implement the findings of one of the institutions that keep our democracy together.
"Who has the power?"
What is the interplay/relationship between local and national governments?
There was an interesting hint at the role of the private sector and private funding in the political system towards the end of tonight's session which may provide more insight into this question. At a talk by Colin Coleman (CEO of Goldman & Sachs) earlier this year, I heard for the first time about the importance of private firms in running our country. Big business people, like himself, went and spoke to the Presidency about the actual, devastating effects for South Africa of replacing Nhlanhla Nene with Des van Rooyen, and those individuals are a large part of the reason van Rooyen was replaced so soon by Pravin Gordhan. I look forward to looking further into this topic.
Otherwise, it seems to me to be the obvious answer that the ANC really has control over the country, for the most part. Stories of corruption, injustice, lacking accountability and proven nepotism paint the idea that they somehow run the country as they please, enrich themselves unjustifiably, and without consequence. The DA and other political parties' attempts at holding the ANC government accountable seem to fall on deaf ears, and time after time end frustratingly and without conviction, apology or change.
Funding, arguably the most integral part of running a government, is also controlled by the National Treasury, lending a lot of power to the party (or individuals) leading the national government. Local municipalities rely on national funding to perform their operations, and are thus heavily dependent on the national government, and it could thus be argued that the national government is ultimately in control.
As Ms Botha said tonight, "democracy is all about participation", and representation plays a big role in encouraging participation. Improved representation should lead to increased participation, and thus, a thriving democracy.