Western Cape Provincial Powers Bill offers hope

John Steenhuisen says legislation is a key step to protecting SA citizens from a failing state


3 July 2023

There is growing anxiety and despair among South Africans at national government’s increasing inability to deliver on its constitutional mandate, be it energy, policing, rail or any other of its responsibilities.

But there are also reasons to have hope. Everywhere, households and businesses are becoming more self-reliant, state-proofing themselves in all manner of ways be-it community initiatives, solar lighting or boreholes. Civil society, too, is weighing in. Just last week, Solidarity secured an agreement with the government, mediated by the International Labour Organisation, that no one may lose their job purely due to their race.

Arguably, the most powerful way to protect citizens is for capable provincial and local governments to carry out the functions that national government is failing on, to the fullest extent possible under the constitution. This is in line with the DA’s commitment to Federalism, which seeks to bring government as close as possible to communities, by vesting power in the lowest level of government capable of carrying out the role.

In May, the DA tabled the Western Cape Provincial Powers Bill in the provincial legislature. The Bill creates a framework for the province to fully assert its existing constitutional and legislative powers and to get more powers delegated from national government. It not only enables but instructs the provincial government to step in as far as constitutionally possible where national government is failing to perform a function.

The constitution allocates certain powers to each sphere of government – national, provincial and local – with overlap in some areas. The first purpose of the bill is to make sure that wherever there is overlap, the province uses any potential powers it has, to the fullest extent possible.

Schedule 4 of the constitution lists many areas of overlap, including trade, policing, and public transport. This bill will ensure that no stone is left unturned in maximising provincial powers to deliver to residents of the Western Cape. Through this mechanism, the Law Enforcement Advancement Plan (LEAP), a joint policing initiative of the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape Government, working with the provincial SAPS, has been able to bring down the year-on-year murder rate in the province by 14% even as it has gone up nationally.

Even though passenger rail is a national function, the City of Cape Town and Western Cape Government are pushing hard for that mandate to be devolved (delegated) to the city and province.

Indeed, on Tuesday at the Africa Rail Conference, the Director General of the Department of Transport acknowledged the importance of devolving transport functions to the lowest level of government, and announced that a devolution strategy will be gazetted this year still, to enable metros to run passenger railway systems.

This matter is urgent. There is a desperate need for an affordable, safe and reliable rail service for city commuters. A recent study found that passenger rail has so collapsed that there has been a 97.5% drop in usage nationally in the last five years. This has been a massive blow to city commuters, for whom commuting by train was far cheaper and more convenient than by bus or taxi.

Cape Town’s Rail Feasibility Study has found that an efficient passenger rail service will save lower income households up to R932 million, and sustain over 51 000 jobs, and add R11 billion to the local economy each year.

The second purpose of the bill is to enable the provincial government to carry out its role, even when national government failure makes it seemingly impossible to do so.

For example, the constitution gives the mandate and budget for electricity generation to national government. If national government fails, then municipalities cannot fulfil their role, which is to distribute that electricity to households and businesses in their area. Rather than just point to national failures and shrug their shoulders, capable local governments are taking the initiative to buy power from independent producers, despite much national government resistance to this solution.

The third purpose of the bill is to get additional powers for provincial and local governments, for example management of ports. This is so that communities can receive the level of service that reflects their choices at the ballot box. It is simply not right that communities that never vote for the ANC must suffer ANC failure.

The fourth purpose of the bill is to enable and compel the Western Cape Province to open a federal path by providing a model that other provinces can then follow too. The more functions that can be codified in provincial law, the better not only for the Western Cape, but for other provinces too, wherever they have capacity.

In the 2024 national and provincial elections, the parties to the Moonshot Pact are very well positioned to win control of some other provinces, especially Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal. Together with the Western Cape, these provinces account for two thirds of the country’s economic activity and 60% of the population.

In a country as diverse as ours, federalism makes sense. The DA is pursuing it to the fullest extent possible. Please go to check.da.org.za to check that you are registered in the voting district where you live. In 2024, a vote for the DA will be a vote that brings government closer to you and makes your life better.

Yours sincerely

John Steenhuisen