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Innovative solutions for an effective local government

Written by Ongezwa Manyathi
Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Pravin Gordhan urged delegates attending a South African Local Government Association (SALGA) National Members Assembly (NMA) to do more with less.

In his speech at the NMA held in Midrand recently, the Minister said: “We have financial limitations in South Africa. The question is how do you do more with less and for the next few years, that’s all you’re going to hear.”

South Africa, as with the rest of the world, is facing tough economic challenges. This means that government as a whole and local government in particular, will have to come up with innovative solutions to provide services to communities.

In an effort to encourage municipalities to think out of the box, a few municipal representatives shared their innovative solutions with their counterparts at the SALGA NMA.

“Innovation is critical in dealing with challenges in local government. We are an innovative nation with some of the most innovative ideas coming from the most rural parts of our country,” said Centre for Public Service Innovation (CPSI) in South Africa CEO, Thuli Radebe.

She said every year the country witnessed this innovation through the CPSI Awards, with the largest number of winners coming from local government.

Innovation brings services closer to the people

A number of municipalities across the country use innovation to provide services to their communities. One such municipality is the eThekwini Municipality’s Water and Sanitation (EWS) unit.

The eThekwini Municipality's Water and Sanitation unit uses modified ship containers to deal with the sanitation challenges in informal settlements in the province.The EWS unit manages the water and sanitation within the eThekwini Municipality and has worked with, among others, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the World Bank.

In 2014, the unit won the 2014 Stockholm Industry Water Award for the “Most innovative and progressive water utility in Africa”. EWS unit representative, Dave Wilson, outlined the use of modified shipping containers as community ablution blocks to solve the sanitation challenge in informal settlements.

The makeshift ablution containers benefit approximately 600 informal settlements.

“These settlements have been identified for future formal housing development by the municipality,” said Wilson.

To date 1 100 ablution facilities have been installed on 600 sites throughout eThekwini, and one facility serves about 50 shacks within a 200-metre radius.

“The municipality appoints caretakers and community liaison officers to maintain the facilities, and the toilet paper and soap are supplied by the unit,” said Wilson.

Apart from creating jobs and stimulating small business development, this project also protects the health of the local communities.

The City of Tshwane is another municipality that is using innovation to improve people’s lives through its digital-technology initiative called Project Isizwe.

Project Isizwe has rolled out some 600 Wi- Fi sites to date, offering coverage to over two million people. According to the municipality, an estimated three million people will have access to free Wi-Fi by the end of 2015.

“Internet connectivity must be treated as a basic delivery of service. Populations are becoming younger, which means government needs to keep up and move with the times, particularly when it comes to young people,” said the Executive Mayor of Tshwane, Kgosientso Ramokgopa.

In November last year, the City also launched Tshwane Wi-FiTV, which hit the one million view mark in early February this year.

Tshwane Wi-FiTV covers topics such as music, current affairs, entrepreneurship, religion, jobs and sport.

“The Wi-Fi filmmakers for this content were previously unemployed or under-employed,” said Ramokgopa.

Another innovative platform launched by the City is the DigiMbizo, a digital version of izimbizo that national government holds across the country to communicate face-toface with communities.

“DigiMbizo allows Tshwane communities to have an Imbizo with the mayor in the comfort of their own homes,” said Ramokgopa.

Community members are able to use Twitter to tweet their questions or concerns with the Mayor using the hashtag #DigiMbizo or #AskRamokgopa and get an immediate response.

Through the DigiMbizo, the municipality is able to reach social groups that normally do not attend traditional forums, explained Ramokgopa.

“It also helps us to monitor public sentiment and enhances the speed of resolving issues.”