Accounting for Basic Services: Policy Briefs

In order to improve accountability and to ensure that communities’ democratic rights go beyond a simple vote towards active political participation and engagement, efforts need to be made to capacitate and enable citizens to do so. In 2016-2018, Afesis-corplan, the Built Environment Support Group (BESG), the Heinrich Böll Foundation (HBF) Southern Africa Office, Isandla Institute and PlanAct have jointly implemented a project entitled “Accounting for basic services: Tackling the inadequate use of resources by municipalities and building a rights-based approach to service delivery” – referred to as the ABS Project. The project has been supported by the EU Delegation to South Africa.

The ABS Project has developed a number of policy briefs, focusing on key issues that have been identified during the course of the project. The purpose of these briefs is to highlight the issue identified (e.g. inadequate access to basic services), outline the policy and institutional context (including the legal framework, municipal policies, intergovernmental relations, roles and responsibilities), identify challenges, gaps and opportunities, and make recommendations for policy and practice/uptake of policy.

Policy brief 1: Local Government Responsibility to provide Basic Services to Indigent Households

Full version

Summary version

The Constitution highlights the right of all citizens to have access to basic levels of services. This principle is underpinned by the National Indigent Policy, which says that municipalities must provide free basic services (FBS) to indigent people in a sustainable manner. The Indigent Policy’s aim is therefore to alleviate poverty in disadvantaged communities by providing free basic water (at least 6 kilolitres per month), free basic electricity (at least 50 kWh per month), and subsidised sewerage and sanitation as well as solid waste management (up to R50 per month or 100% subsidy to indigent households).

Policy brief 2: The Reality of Insecure Environments

Full version

Summary version

Rapid urbanisation has contributed to the growth of informal housing on a large scale. The accelerated migration of people from mainly rural areas into urban areas has caused informal settlements to grow beyond the coping capacity of municipal infrastructure, which has resulted in the deterioration of living conditions and the surrounding environment.

Policy brief 3:

Full version

Summary version

Glenmore residents march to the Ngqushwa local municipality

Afesis-corplan was in Peddie on June 27 where residents of Glenmore marched to the Ngqushwa local municipality to demand that municipal officials respond to a petition they handed over in April.

The petition relates to the Glenmore community sports field which the municipality spent more than R2-million refurbishing. However the sports field remains in a shambles.

The community marched to the municipality in April to handover a petition requesting that the municipality rectify the poor workmanship done to the sports field.

Residents gave the municipality 30 days to respond to the petition however the municipality did not respond.

This resulted in community members embarking on another peaceful march on June 27.

Until this date the Glenmore sports facility remains inaccessible to members of the community wishing to use it.

Afesis-corplan has been involved in attempts to get the Ngqushwa Municipality to share information on the project and rectify the sports field.

This was done as part of Afesis-corplan’s Accounting for Basic Services Project which it is facilitating in Ngqushwa and Buffalo City Municipalities.

At the gate marchers we met by bouncers who then locked the gate. A few minutes later acting municipal manager at the Ngqushwa local municipality Mkhuseli Mxekezo emerged from his offices to address the marchers. He said the petition in question was still being processed by the municipal’s petition committee but could not give a date as to when it will be attended to.

See videos of the march on our YouTube channel.

Or view them all below:

BCM Must Support Civic Education To Strengthen Democracy

The role and participation of citizens in municipal processes and local government planning are critical for civic engagement, influencing policy, decision-making and holding government accountable.

This was a message delivered by Afesis-corplan’s Executive Director, Nontando Ngamlana at the Buffalo City Metro (BCM) civic education dialogue held in East London on Friday May 22.

Ngamlana said civic education today must address the present problems but also build the skills and capacity needed for the future envisaged role of citizens in supporting the articulated long-term vision of the Buffalo City Metro municipality.

She said it was Afesis-corplan’s view that a different approach to civic education was needed because we, as a country, are in a different place in our democratic process.

“In implementing civic education, we have to ask the following questions: Where are we and where do we want to be? What skill and capacity do we want to see in our citizens in the next 10, 20 and 30 years? And what content do we build into our education material, what tools do we use to build the capacity and skill we envisage? How will we know when we are succeeding? Who do we need to partner with? And what other resources do we need?,” Ngamlana said.

BCM Council Speaker Alfred Mtsi chaired the dialogue aimed at finding solutions to address some of society’s biggest challenges such as unemployment, poverty and inequality.

The Executive Director defined civic education as “a process of empowering citizens to strengthen democracy.”

She said civic education prepared citizens for meaningful participation in government planning.

“Civic education builds responsible citizens to use their resources no matter how limited they are to contribute to a greater good of society,” the Executive Director said.

“In the last 20 years civic education has focused on informing. Everyone knows the three spheres of government and they are generally rights conscious. Everyone knows how to vote” said Ngamlana.

“However, crime rate has increased, gender-based violence has increased, protests are more violent,” Ngamlana said.

She explained further: “What this tells us is that in the last 20 years we focused on civic education based on individualistic citizenship where everything is about ‘me and me alone’. We neglected communal citizenship based on Ubuntu (humanity).”

BCM Office of the Speaker General Manager, Sabelo Nkuhlu gave a presentation about stakeholders they wished to see participate in civic education.

Nkuhlu said the stakeholders were government institutions, civic formations such as community based organizations, traditional leadership, business community, youth formations, women organizations, people with disabilities, NGO’s, Chapter 9 Institutions and tertiary institutions.

Nkuhlu says they would like to see civic education in BCM tackle issues of public education on human rights, laws and policies of government (Constitution), roles and responsibilities of citizenry, gender equality and women empowerment, youth and children development.

Daily Dispatch Opinion piece: No fix for wards in current format

In the Daily Dispatch 25 April 2018 edition, our Executive Director, Nontando Ngamlana responded to the Daily Dispatch April 13 article titled  “Ward system not working – poor education hampers service delivery in BCM”.

Read her opinion piece here.

BCMM Council Open Day 2018

On the 16th May 2018, Afesis-corplan programme staff Masixole Kente, Lindokuhle Vellem and Sikhander Coopoo attended the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality’s 2018 Council Open Day. The purpose of the Council Open Day was for BCMM to present the outcomes of their IDP Roadshow that took place from 19 April – 14 May 2018 (this included consultations with organised business and traditional leadership). View the full speech presented by the BCMM Executive Mayor Councillor Xola Pakati here.

Deepening Participatory Local Governance

The murkiness of today’s politics demands that citizens establish organs through which they will exercise power. Ward committees were conceptualized as organs for people’s power, but it has been proven beyond doubt that this mechanism failed to shift power in local governance in a manner that allows citizens to participate meaningfully in governance. Afesis-corplan argues that the ward committee as a mechanism can no longer be rehabilitated and that an alternative is necessary. Since the ward committee system has been written into the legislative framework that regulates local government, it goes without saying therefore that there are changes in law necessary in the reform of mechanisms for citizen participation in local governance.

Afesis-corplan together with its civil society partners are working on an initiative aimed at exploring effective ways for citizens to engage meaningfully in local governance. This emanates from years of working in the local governance sector where gaps with the present participatory mechanisms have been noted. Efforts to strengthen these gaps over time bore little fruit leading the organizations to conclude that the present mechanisms for citizens to engage in local governance needed to be relooked at. Afesis-corplan and its partners argue that there is a need to rethink the design and structure, as well as functions of legislated mechanisms for citizen participation in all spheres of government but with an emphasis on local government. With this in mind, the work that these organizations are embarking on will lead to recommendations for policy and practice.


The project has the following objectives:

  1. To support and facilitate the involvement of civil society in the review of legislative mechanisms for citizen participation in local governance.
  2. To contribute towards systemic change in the manner in which local government facilitates, supports and resource citizen participation on the one hand; and the manner in which citizens take up opportunities to participate on the other.
  3. To pilot innovative and alternative spaces for co-creation between citizens and local government.

These objectives will be achieved by:

  1. Facilitating the establishment of and the coordination of a Advisory Group that will strategically guide the civil society activities aimed at influencing the government-driven policy-review process.
  2. Lifting the veil of secrecy in the policy-review process through targeted conferences, roundtables, published articles, communication and advocacy.
  3. Partnering with GGLN member organizations to pilot alternative mechanisms to the ward committee system.
  4. Facilitating the space for learning, reflection and document lessons learnt during the implementation of this programme.




Working Paper Series

  • Towards Strengthening Public Participation And Civic Engagement In South Africa
  • Constitutional & Legislative Framework Regulating Participatory Local Governance In South Africa
  • War Rooms In The Eastern Cape
  • Advocating for Change
  • Participatory and Representative Democracy

Commissioned Research

  • Analysis of municipal and civil society responses to contested citizen spaces and experiences, July 2017
  • Comparative Analysis of Transparency and Public Participation Mechanisms: making a case against institutionalized arrangements, September 2017



Learning Brief #13: Good plans – bad implementation

In development work one often hears the phrase, “we have good plans but bad implementation”.

Is the ‘good plans – bad implementation’ statement true? Where is the problem? Is it in our capacity
to implement the plans, or is it that the plans are not actually implementable?

To read the full Learning Brief, click here.

Afesis-corplan calls for legislative amendments in support of public participation

The Report of the High Level Panel on the Assessment of Key Legislation (HLPKL) and the Acceleration of Fundamental Change, published on 22 November 2017, recommends that:

“Parliament should consider identifying and reviewing all legislation that includes a public participation component,… so that where provision is made for the public to be consulted, this consultation is meaningful and effective.” (page 403)

The HLPKL report, drawing on the Afesis-corplan and the Democracy Development Programme’s (DDP) submission to the panel, notes that:

“[t]he original conceptual framework for citizen participation in local government is limiting and robs local government of the opportunity to tap into the capacity, the energy and resources that rests within citizens to drive change. There is a need to rethink the role of active citizens in local governance as co-drivers of change. The existing framework for citizen participation only enables the public to participate as invited guests in local government processes as opposed to partners and co-creators. This argument is derived from the emphasis on the term to ‘encourage and to consult’ in Section 152 (1) of the Constitution, in Sections 1 and 4 of the Municipal Systems Act, and in Section 19 of the Municipal Structures Act” (page 402)

Afes-corplan and DDP would like to engage with the HLPKL, parliament and others in further reviewing current legislation to identify how public participation legislation can be improved.

In particular (as recommended in the Afesis-corplan and DDP submission), opportunities for legislative amendments need to be identified, where municipalities, government departments, parliament and others can be encouraged and supported to pilot and test more innovative public participation methods.

Afesis-corplan has also made comments on the land related recommendations from the HLPKL report.

The Scenery Park Phase 3 Housing Story

by Masixole Kente

The construction of 947 houses for the Scenery Park Phase 3 beneficiaries in East London finally started in June 2017. These households  have been waiting for their approved houses for more than 20 years. Afesis-corplan partnered with the community in 2014 and built the capacity of the community to better engage with the Eastern Cape Department of Human Settlements around their housing needs. Currently the beneficiaries are hands-on in the process of monitoring the construction of their houses. Afesis-corplan recently compiled a short video clip that captures the journey of the Scenery Park Phase 3 beneficiaries and gives an inside look at the community’s struggles that began in 1994. Also see a previous video put together by Afesis-corplan called ‘A purposeful pursuit’ which gives a bit more detail about this story.

Mandela Day in Glenmore

by Lindokuhle Vellem

On the 18th of July, which is the international commemorative day for Nelson Mandela’s Birthday, the Afesis-corplan team travelled to Glenmore community in the Ngqushwa Municipality of the Eastern Cape. It was a fun day filled with singing and laughter, cleaning and painting. To end the day a huge Mandela cake was shared in memory of our fallen statesman.

Afesis-corplan has been working with the community of Glenmore through the Accounting for Basic Services (ABS) project. Through this work, the group approached Afesis-corplan to help revive their once vibrant CommunityAdvice and Information centre, which was last operational in the mid 1990’s. The day not only revived the centre, but the community’s belief in their strength and the length to which they can go in reviving their community.

The day was filled with the young and old working together towards a desired goal, which sets the stage for more collaborative development in the community. This is especially worth mentioning because of the history of division between the youth and the older generation. There’s quite a bit of unwritten history about the community that the young people in Glenmore are not aware of. As Afesis-corplan, we believe that as we endeavour to hold more of these collaborative spaces and conversations, the stronger Glenmore becomes and a space for passing down Institutional knowledge is facilitated. ABS starts with having stronger community links before holding an external body accountable.

“United we stand, divided we fall”.