Home Opinion and Features Scrapping provincial tier will save fiscus billions

Scrapping provincial tier will save fiscus billions


OPINION: Redrawing the internal geography of the country was supposed to reduce territorial disparities in economic development and facilitate the redistribution of resources between regions, but with the provinces the opposite has happened, writes Trevor Ngwane.

A joint sitting of Parliament’s two Houses. File picture: Nardus Engelbrecht, Independent Media

By Trevor Ngwane

THE FAILURE of Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana to inspire the nation when he presented his Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement last week is worrying and challenging.

It is worrying that he repeatedly suggested that austerity and privatisation were solutions to the country’s economic problems. There is little to inspire in his rehash of neo-liberal policies that put the country in its social and economic malaise ever since the ANC government discarded the Reconstruction and Development Programme and adopted the Growth, Employment and Redistribution programme in 1996.

In his speech, the minister spoke about “reconfiguring the structure and size of the state in line with the president’s commitment in the 2023 State of the Nation address … which includes closing or merging ineffective entities and programmes.”

Furthermore, “resolving these challenges must be based on transforming the sector, and not trying to save an entity”.

He was talking about Eskom and other state-owned entities within the framework of his neo-liberal agenda.

Rather than thinking about closing or privatising Eskom, Godongwana, what about scrapping the provinces? What about getting rid of these state structures that hang in mid-air, and thus save the fiscus billions of rand? The money could be used to end the crisis in the provision of health care, education and housing for the masses.

The frenzied and well-publicised vote-seeking exploits of Gauteng’s Panyaza “The Busy Premier” Lesufi, have exposed his low-profile, low-energy counterparts in other provinces. Why do we have nine provinces and where do they fit in the country’s developmental agenda? The opening lyrics in Zahara’s Struggle song, Thekwane, remind us that “if you don’t know where you come from, you won’t know where you are going”. Under apartheid, there were four provinces which were administrative structures rather than full-blown sub-national governments with premiers, members of the executive committee and legislatures, including all the trappings such as fat salaries and blue lights.

It was the National Party and the Democratic Party (the two merged to form the DA), together with the IFP, that insisted on having provinces because they wanted South Africa to become a federal state. The ANC and the broader national liberation movement wanted a unitary state. Federalism was an attempt to undermine the ability of the new democratic government to implement massive reforms that would benefit primarily the working class and the poor who had suffered under racial capitalism. The ANC leaders betrayed themselves and the masses when they agreed to the creation of nine quasi-federal provinces whose borders coincided with apartheid geography’s divisions and inequalities.

The Cape, for example, was divided into three provinces along racial, ethnic and class lines in a gerrymandering project aimed at guaranteeing victory for the Democratic Party/Alliance in the Northern Cape and Western Cape, based on white and so-called coloured votes. The Eastern Cape’s borders traced the “independent” Transkei and Ciskei Bantustans, thus locking the people as they entered the new South Africa in black, Xhosa-speaking and poor identities.

The IFP insisted on merging the KwaZulu self-governing Bantustan with Natal, arguing that special provision should be made for the accommodation of the Zulu monarchy and people.

Similar racist, ethnic and class logics determined the borders of other provinces at the dawn of democracy. Dragon’s teeth were sown to sabotage the developmental project of achieving social-spatial and economic justice for all. The uneven development inherited from colonialism and racial capitalism was embedded in the structures of the various provincial governments created.

People often say poor provinces such as the Eastern Cape are ridden with corruption and maladministration. There is truth in this but when only part of the truth is told, then it becomes a lie. What is often left unsaid is how the Eastern Cape was doomed to poverty and failure the day it was created.

At its birth, the unemployment rate in the province was twice that of the Western Cape; it had the highest absolute number of poor people while Limpopo had the highest percentage of poor people. The Eastern Cape had an infant mortality of 61.2 per thousand live births compared to 45.4 for the country.

Apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd’s dream of separating the blacks from the whites, the poor from the rich, was realised when this province was formed by separating it from the Western Cape. Later, the premier of the Western Cape could complain about people coming “with buses from the Eastern Cape on the front doors of major Western Cape hospitals” seeking health care.

Historically, many workers were employed as migrant workers in the mines on the Rand and in cities such as Cape Town. The migrant labour system was a mechanism used by mining capital to make super-profits through the super-exploitation of the workers. They contributed to the development of big cities but the provincialisation of the South African state, like the apartheid influx controls and Group Areas Act, deny them the right to lay any claim to the wealth their labour created. Eastern Cape villages such as Mqanduli, Libode and Ngqeleni, where at least a quarter of South Africa’s gold miners came from since the 1930s, remain some of the poorest areas in the country.

Redrawing the internal geography of the country was supposed to reduce territorial disparities in economic development and facilitate the redistribution of resources between regions but with the provinces, the opposite has happened.

The neo-liberal model of governance requires provinces to compete rather than co-operate with one another. Each province adopts its own provincial development plan and its own brand; the institutions of provinces harden into a territorialism underpinned by provincialised class interests, alliances and identities sometimes linked to ethnicity and languages.

A form of economic federalism thrives, undermining the national liberation movement’s vision of a unitary government which prioritises redress and rolling back the injustices of the past. When it comes to provinces, the ANC government lost the plot. Only a government controlled and run by workers can challenge the neo-liberal anti-developmental agenda and eradicate all forms of oppression and exploitation.

* Trevor Ngwane is the director of the Centre for Sociological Research and Practice at the University of Johannesburg.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the DFA.

Previous articleSA’s most expensive home remains a mystery
Next articleWinds of change for SA’s electricity crisis