South African law allows for the City of Cape Town to establish ward committees whose purpose is to enhance participatory democracy in local government. That is quite a broad mandate and it is up to the local municipality to determine how the ward committee is established and to delegate appropriate powers to it. Ward Committees could and should be the building block for democratic ward decision making and they must be reformed and empowered. We may not be able to change the Council policy, but we can demonstrate a different culture and way of working if we can elect a resident as the Ward Councillor – we don’t have to follow the City’s policy!
Anybody living in the ward should be able to serve on a Ward Committee not only people employed or representing registered organisations. The Ward Committee should be directly elected by residents living in the ward rather than by registered organisations.
Ward Committee members should be elected on a geographical basis to ensure that all communities in the ward are represented. Each voting district could elect at least one ward committee member. This would mean that every resident living in a ward would have one person that represents their interests in the lowest structure of Council.
The Councillor and Ward committee should meet regularly in public to make decisions and the meeting should be open for anybody living in the ward to attend and observe. Where decisions require deliberation and mandates then these can be obtained through ward assemblies and other forms of participation as required. Ward Committees should be supported by a clerk from the administration who may assist with formal rules and minutes etc.
Community Organising and Public Participation
Ward committee members should help organise the ward, communicate upcoming meetings and facilitate public participation in their districts wherever the views of residents are required. They should update residents in district meetings, online and in newsletters on decisions that have been made in Ward Committee meetings and ward assemblies. Ward Committee members should contribute time on a voluntary basis but should be fairly compensated for transport and other costs they have incurred to do the work and should be provided with resources such as access to printing and stationery at Ward and District Community Centres.
Our aim is to ensure that the state supports the resources that already exist in communities. We need to focus on harnessing the resources and agency of communities and reforming how the state supports and empowers this. However, we must complement this with resources from the Citty.
Every year the City allocates a small amount for each Councillor to spend on projects in their ward – normally around R800,000. These are the only funds that are ring-fenced for the ward which the Councillor has any decision-making power over. While residents give input, it is up to the Councillor and the ward committee to submit a list of projects for the Subcouncil and City Council to approve.
Right now, we can demonstrate how residents can come together to deliberate and make decisions collectively on what to spend the Ward Allocation on. We can crowdsource ideas in meetings and online, help to sort them into viable projects and ensure that they are fairly distributed; and allow residents to vote on these ideas – giving the Ward Councillor and Ward Committee a firm mandate for which projects to take to Council for approval.
In time, we must secure greater control over the budget and ensure a larger share of the capital expenditure is delegated to the Ward Committee to decide.
It is equally important to ensure that money that has been allocated to the Ward is spent effectively.
The Councillor and Ward Committee may make a decision that a service is required but should never make decisions about which service providers secures a tender or contract. Rather, the Ward Committee can help to lead social audits of the services, projects and programmes that are run in the Ward.
A social audit is a community-led process where residents collectively review verifying government (or private company) documents such as reports, plans, documents and contracts by comparing them with the realities on the ground and the experiences of the community. It is a way to decide if the outcomes reported by the government reflect the public money spent and the services received by the community.
Ward Committees should be delegated decision making powers
Councillors and Ward Committees, chaired by the Councillor, should be delegated formal decision making powers for local issues at the ward level informed by Ward Assemblies and other local structures like CPFs and Civic Organisations. If empowered, Ward Committees powers could include:
- Local traffic management measures and placement and safety of transport infrastructure like bus stations and taxi stops. Priorities in terms of cycling and walking infrastructure.
- Community empowering Ward waste recycling schemes and management and the placements of depots.
- Local integrated safety plans including priority and placement of street lighting and the integration of community based interventions with other stakeholders such as SAPS, Gender Based Violence support services, neighbourhood watch and CPF structures.
- Local economic interventions such as community run Wifi schemes in public places and across communities as well as the operation of informal markets, stalls and trading.
- Allocations of public land to residents as allotments for urban food gardens.
- Identification of spaces and co-ordination of community education initiatives such as night classes, apprenticeship programmes and skills exchanges.
- Management of local advice offices and social support services for youth and the elderly.
- Use of public streets and facilities for cultural programmes, concerts, dance, art exhibitions and music concerts.