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SALGA’s new president eyeing upliftment of local municipalities

President of the South African Local Government Association Thembisile Nkadimeng.

As the first Mayor of a local municipality to become president of the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), Thembisile Nkadimeng plans to bring challenges affecting small municipalities to the fore.

Nkadimeng became the first woman Executive Mayor of the City of Polokwane in 2014 and still occupies the position.

Her career kicked off when she got a job as an Assistant Director for Corporate Affairs at the Limpopo Provincial Government. She went on to become a Chief Director before resigning to accept the mayoral post.

She was previously chairperson of SALGA in Limpopo, and was later appointed as the deputy president of the organisation nationally.

SALGA is an autonomous organisation mandated by the South African Constitution, which defines it as a representative of local government.

The experience she gained from occupying these positions has contributed immensely to the leader that she is, and Nkadimeng is confident that she will be able to deliver on her duties because she is well capacitated to lead SALGA.

“The work experience that I gained over the years has given me a strong administrative background. My political background also balances the qualities that I have as a leader because I was raised in a political family and I was also actively involved in political movements as a student and beyond,” she said.

“All these assisted me to understand systems and processes at administrative level and I think it helps me as a politician to ensure that I know what it means to play an oversight role, which is very important for me to contribute to the growth of the institution that I work for,” she added.

Nkadimeng was born in Bethal, a small farming town in Mpumalanga and said the community played a big part in her upbringing.

She is a BA Honours graduate from the University of Limpopo, and also holds a Bachelor of Philosophy (Political Studies) from Stellenbosch University.

“I specialised in public policy. My interest in government policy was engineered there. I also completed the Management Advancement Programme at Wits Business School,” she said.

Empowering local municipalities

The latest report released by the Auditor-General of South Africa (AGSA) on municipal audit results shows that the state of most municipalities is dire because out of the 257 audited municipalities, the audit outcomes of 63 regressed while those of 22 improved.

Only 18 municipalities managed to produce quality financial statements and performance reports, as well as comply with all key legislation, thereby receiving a clean audit.

This is a regression from the 33 municipalities that received clean audits in the previous year.

The AGSA said the unqualified opinions on the financial statements decreased from 61 percent to 51 percent and the quality of the financial statements provided to the institution for auditing was even worse than in the previous year.

In her role as the President of SALGA, Nkadimeng sees this as an indication that the local sphere of government is bleeding and is determined to help turn the situation around.

“We need to not focus on the symptoms of a municipality that is underperforming, but rather ask practical questions of what leads to the deterioration of it so that we can address those issues,” she said.

Nkadimeng believes she will contribute immensely to advancing the vision of the Integrated Urban Development Framework, which aims to create liveable, safe, resource-efficient cities and towns that are socially integrated, economically inclusive and globally competitive, and where residents actively participate in urban life.

As a representative of a local municipality, she believes her appointment brings an interesting dynamic on what is overlooked in small municipalities.

She said only eight of the 257 SALGA-affiliated municipalities in the country are metros, which means the bulk of municipalities are on the periphery of the country, yet they grapple with many daily difficulties.

“Metros in their nature are economic hubs, are able to attract investment and raise their own revenue, which helps them be sustainable. This is a completely different story when it comes to small municipalities, and many people find it hard to understand why small municipalities are struggling.

“If an area is not an economic hub, you find that most residents in that area are unemployed and are unable to pay their rates and taxes to the municipality, which means the municipality will not be able to collect enough revenue to sustain itself.”

Attracting the right skills

She added that small municipalities also battle to attract employees with the right skills.

Nkadimeng believes government should review its funding formula for municipalities so that they can be capacitated to attain and retain the necessary skills which will enable them to deliver quality services to residents.

“I embrace this opportunity to be the president who comes from a small municipality because it will enable me to highlight the plight of small municipalities in the country,” she said.

Part of Nkadimeng’s job is to ensure that the 44 district municipalities champion the development of local municipalities, explaining that most district municipalities are able to attract the necessary skills and get clean audits yet the local municipalities under them fail to achieve the same results.

“We have not been giving district municipalities sufficient support to assist local municipalities. If you want to uplift local municipalities, you have to ensure that there is sufficient strength given to district municipalities,” she said.

Her message to municipalities that are still struggling to deliver on their mandates is that they should look at filling vacant positions with people who are well capacitated in order to improve their performance.

She also encouraged them to consider learning best practices from municipalities that have been performing well for a number of years.

Challenges faced by women leaders

Nkadimeng said another challenge in municipalities is that women mayors are undermined on the basis of their gender, and their capabilities are generally overlooked.

“In most cases, violence and intimidation levelled at municipal leaders target women councillors. By the very nature of gender stereotypes, we become vulnerable as women, and that also cascades to councillors. The structures within society favour men whereas women are expected to be subservient,” she said.

Nkadimeng herself is not immune to the challenges facing women in leadership positions.

As a mother of four, she said it is very daunting to have to juggle work and also take care of her family because the system is not yet conducive to women in high positions.

“Inequality is the first problem because women have so many responsibilities as sisters, wives, mothers, aunts and so forth, prior to the role they have to play in their day-to-day jobs,” she said.

Nkadimeng said a support structure must be put in place to allow women leaders to thrive.

In order to overcome these challenges, she makes sure she is well prepared for any position that she occupies.

“Women need to be capable leaders; it is not about tokenism but it is about fully representing women.”

She believes that women must continue demanding their place at the table because it will not just be granted to them.

“We must take a step forward every day in a meaningful way to ensure that we change society. We must also not forget to open doors for others. We should stop kicking down the ladder once we are up and rather afford other women a chance to grow. That way we will not be isolated in the positions we hold. Sisterhood is key to women development.”

Nkadimeng is happy with the gender parity in government but reckons more focus should be placed on enhancing and strengthening current leaders so that those in leadership positions receive the support they need to deliver on their responsibilities.

She paid tribute to the women leaders who paved the way for her to land the position of SALGA president, including the first SALGA female President Nomaindia Mfeketo, who is also the former Minister of Human Settlements.

“I would not be sitting in this position if it was not for the women of yesterday. Most of these women are unsung heroines; they are women who sell vegetables on the corner of the street and domestic workers whose children go on to become general practitioners, but nobody celebrates them.”

Nkadimeng said it is her duty as a woman in a leadership position to ensure that the generation of females that comes after her will be better off.

During her tenure as the president of SALGA, she hopes to ensure more people understand what SALGA stands for, which is championing the interests of municipalities and advocating for laws, rules and responsibilities that improve service delivery at local government level.

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