Critical public engagements over the changing of ward boundaries in the Eastern Cape, known as delimitation, have not taken place, which means the submissions made by the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) are fatally flawed and bring the entire process into question.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the ability of institutions such as the MDB to carry out the usual face to face public participation processes, alternative forms of public engagement are available, but were not utilised.
Instead, the MDB simply opted to publish the proposed changes in the government gazette and gave the public 14 days to comment. This does not amount to effective and comprehensive consultation of the public.
The South African Constitution was forged within the principle that ‘the people shall govern’. South Africa is characterised by having a consultative democracy which is democratic and participative in nature, and public participation is an essential tenant of our hard-fought democracy.
In terms of the delimitation process, gathering input from the community regarding the proposed changes to municipal boundaries is critical in ensuring transparency in the decision-making process.
A capable state would place power in the hands of the people through meaningful public participation.
Fundamental changes to ward boundaries in Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, for example, include:
- Splitting the Helenvale Community, causing fragmentation of one of the poorest communities in Nelson Mandela Bay, essentially forcing residents to travel outside of their own community to report service delivery issues.
- A section of Shauderville has also been annexed and will be serviced by a councillor elsewhere, affecting the homogenous nature of that community.
- Many of the ANC wards are just over the threshold of the minimum number of voters, while many of the DA wards are nearing the maximum threshold of voters, which smacks of gerrymandering.
According to legislation the Municipal Demarcation Board must consider objections and either confirm, vary or withdraw its limitations. One of the criteria is to avoid, as far as possible, the fragmentation of communities.
Although the Democratic Alliance has lodged comprehensive objections against the proposed delimitations for Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, there have been very trivial changes to the final delimitation proposals by the board.
In fact, the DA has received no communication from the board even recognising the objections lodged and no communication in terms of whether these objections have been considered at all.
The DA is gravely concerned that the lack of effective public consultation will have devastating effects on the lives of communities that are struggling with access to the delivery of basic services.
I have now written to the Chairman of the Municipal Demarcation Board, Thabo Manyoni, to ensure that its objections have been considered and to request a round of meaningful public participation and an extension of the time-frame for public comments in the Eastern Cape.