Embrace home rule: A call for decentralization – Woode-Smith

Embrace home rule: A call for decentralization – Woode-Smith

In a country where centralization breeds chaos and incompetence, the African National Congress (ANC) clings to power, ignoring the glaring need for change. South Africa, vast and diverse, cannot thrive under the ANC’s outdated ideologies and corrupt practices. It’s time to embrace home rule, empowering local leaders to govern effectively. From municipalities to provinces, decentralization fosters accountability, efficiency, and stability. It’s a call for practical federalism, a grassroots movement for progress beyond the shadow of centralized control.

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By Nicholas Woode-Smith 

The African National Congress (ANC) has a toxic relationship with centralisation. No matter how much its state-monopolies plunge the country into darkness, or how the national South African Police Service (SAPS) fails to address local gangsterism, the ANC insists that South Africa must be a unitary state under their absolute rule.

But South Africa is far too large and unwieldy go be governed from the top-down. Especially by a party that has a track record of endemic corruption and incompetence. Not to mention an obsession with outdated and morally bankrupt ideology in the form of Soviet-style communism and Marxism so impractical that Lenin himself would have squinted at it dubiously.

This country needs to be embrace home rule. That is, allowing local areas to be governed effectively by local leaders and governments. This exists in limited amounts today, with municipalities having separate elections to the national government. But there is no true municipal autonomy. Municipalities are still beholden to party loyalties, cadre deployment, and receiving bailouts and funding from the national government.

Provinces have an even shorter end of the stick. While provinces could serve as substantive and constructive governments for their localities, they functionally exist as figureheads – having to beg the national government for the smallest concessions.

This all serves only to erode the energy and passion that residents and local leaders could use to improve their areas and their lives.

The closer to home a government or leader is, the more they can cater to the needs of that particular area. Rather than fall in line with stringent and nonsensical national policies, uniform across the country, local government should be allowed to determine their own legislation, while governing their own affairs – with a focus on their area. Because the people doing the job also benefit from it, there is more of an incentive to succeed.

Local governments also benefit from having to serve fewer people. This means less strain on material and mental resources. Being able to focus on a finite area and population leads to efficiency.

Being from the area also encourages local government officials to cultivate a personal relationship with their constituents. These are their neighbours and friends. Not just suckers to extract tax revenue from. They have skin in the game. And this ensures accountability. Far more than any sort of accountability we can expect from the individuals in the Union Building.

Another benefit of home rule, and a lack of centralisation in general, is that it lowers the stakes of politics. There is far less money trapped in a single municipality or even province than there is in a centralised, national treasury. Not to mention the power one gains as the central government of the entirety of the country.

In a federal system, with home rule, there is very little power being held in any single office. That means that there is less incentive for the corrupt and power hungry to vie for positions. Without the incentive to seize absolute authority, political stability also rises, as the incentive to commit violence to achieve ultimate political power is mitigated.

Federalism is what South Africa needs. And it starts at home. The ANC deplores federalism and will not support it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t embrace it already. The constitution already stipulates that South Africa is functionally a federal system. The ANC has just refused to acknowledge this.

Local leaders, councillors, municipalities and even provincial governments need to work with their residents starting now. If there is a problem in a local area, the national government doesn’t care. Fix it. Don’t wait for Pretoria to come flying in to help (unless you live in Pretoria, that is). Local businesses, communities and politicians need to work together, excluding national government as much as possible. Only then will we see progress.

We may not have formal federalism until a new government, or the ANC miraculously grows some sense, but we can solve many of our issues on the ground if we stop apathetically accepting centralised control, roll up our sleeves, and embrace home rule in a practical sense.

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