Small-town South Africa is down, but that doesn’t mean it is out


Many an obituary has been written about South Africa’s small and remote towns. However, while many of these towns have been and are suffering from chronic mismanagement and decay, hope is emerging in new paradigms that move beyond overreliance and dependence upon a failing state.

Bringing stability and prosperity back to local economies and communities is crucial to avoiding a cascading destabilisation, by which local collapse eventually leads to unmanageable pressure on local farming operations and budensome migration into already-strained metropolitan areas. But how does one avoid this kind of failure from becoming irreversible?

Sakeliga and its partners have been working hard to establish legal precedents and good practice on dealing with municipal failure and to assist with alternative mechanisms for service delivery.

Sakeliga, with the help of our loyal funders, is developing a model of litigation able in certain important ways to check and even reverse harmful misuse of authority and mismanagement by the state.

We identify and pursue commercial cases in the public interest with high economic impact potential. We offer businesspeople a safe avenue to support litigation without public exposure and risks.

We aim to detect opportunities for litigation on a local or municipal level to protect not only the communities that are directly affected but also to set precedents that have reach throughout the country. Examples of the outcomes of this approach are cases such as the Musina case where Sakeliga succeeded in preventing Eskom from cutting off the power to paying end-users in the city due to municipal debts; others such as the SALGA case address not only the lack of action by authorities but also empowers businesses and communities by fighting to prevent the monopolisation of service delivery by municipalities.

The hallmark case in this regard is our litigation in Ditsobotla where the Northwest Provincial Government was ordered to accept responsibility for the crisis in Ditsobotla, to consult with Sakeliga about it and to report to Sakeliga every three months. This is a big step in moving toward greater oversight and influence on sound management of towns by business communities and responsible residents.

Of course, a realistic strategy for restoring local economies cannot rely solely on litigation – it must also include the creation of alternative service delivery mechanisms and other structures. This is why Sakeliga welcomes and supports a promising initiative to restore order in the collapsed municipality of Ditsobotla, namely, the Ditsobotla Services Association – a not-for-profit organisation set up by local businesses and communities with assistance from Sakeliga and in parallel to Sakeliga’s ongoing litigation for new constitutional precedents in Ditsobotla. Its purpose is to counter service delivery failures and restore order – and tangible hope – in towns like Lichtenburg.

Small-town South Africa is suffering terribly. But death is not inevitable. Rather than treating such a passing as a fait accompli, business communities can fight back, and as has been shown on numerous occasions, your support and involvement can make a profound difference.

Sakeliga litigates against key threats to commercial order and our action fosters constitutional principles for a thriving economy. As a community of involved and dynamic businesses and individuals, we can litigate to slow, halt, and even reverse state decay and harmful interference long enough to buy time for building alternatives. Overreliance on the state has proven to be an unsuccessful strategy. Let us as businesspeople take up the responsibility to build a flourishing and resilient business environment.

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