THE City of Johannesburg employs 135 ward councillors. This effectively means that for each ward in the city, a representative is elected to council by the residents of that specific area.
Keeping in mind that South Africa is still a young democracy, the actual role and responsibilities of councillors are relatively unknown to the public.
On the whole, a DA ward councillor is a bridge between the City Council and residents of the ward she or he has been elected to serve. In other words, the councillor has a legislated duty to represent your community’s interests. The City Council includes all the legal processes, the administration as a whole, departments, and municipal-owned entities in Johannesburg, such as the Johannesburg Roads Agency and Joburg Water, for example.
While residents do not vote directly on council decisions, the councillor is mandated to take upon themselves the views of the residents and amplify the community’s voice in council. As a result of this, councillors are certainly expected to be accessible to residents, allowing them the opportunity to be part of public involvement and increase participation.
A neutral representative
As a resident, it is important to keep in mind that a councillor must not show any bias towards either his or her own interests or that of a particular group within the broader community. For example, your councillor should never behave in a way that shows favouritism towards a specific Residents Association. While the councillor should indeed engage and consult with groups of residents, or individual residents, the councillor must not do so at the expense of the community in its entirety.
This might seem like a tough line to follow, but being impartial is a cornerstone of excellence in public service. Councillors are, after all, representatives of the whole community.
Councillor dos and don’ts
Councillors need to report back to their communities at least once a quarter and should use available communication channels to engage with their communities. This could include, for example, email newsletters, social media pages, and a WhatsApp group dedicated to residents of the ward.
Confidential council information may not be shared with residents, but this does not prevent the distribution of information related to the city’s programmes and campaigns, which is for public information. Councillors are also responsible for monitoring the city’s performance, for example, through regular quarterly reports served at council.
Legitimately constituted Residents Associations are important community channels which councillors should always seek to liaise with. This helps to gauge the views of residents. Your ward councillor should be reasonably available, but not necessarily always on call. Many councillors do have and are permitted by legislation to hold alternative employment. Your councillor is not required to be a resident of the ward they represent.
Working with city officials
It may come as a surprise, but residents should know that their councillor may not, by law, instruct an official to take a particular action. In other words, your councillor does not have the legitimate right to order someone to fix a pothole on your street corner or, for example, instruct Joburg Water to attend to a burst pipe. This is covered by legislation in the Municipal Systems Act.
Nevertheless, councillors are encouraged to build good relationships with officials of the city in their ward and region. By working together, councillors can be the eyes and ears for residents on service delivery matters and, wherever possible, the local councillor should aim to escalate crucial challenges to officials, municipal-owned entities, Members of the Mayoral Committee (MMCs) and departments.
So although a councillor cannot be directly held accountable for service delivery, a good, professional relationship with officials will go a long way in supporting the community. A councillor’s fundamental role is that of oversight.
Contacting your councillor
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) keeps a full database of councillors. It is possible to find your ward councillor by visiting the ‘Who is my Ward Councillor’ section of the IEC’s website.
As much as ward councillors and political representatives are important, they also rely on the residents to be part of their strategic system ‘on the ground’. In efforts to build a better, cleaner, and prosperous city, they do need residents to reach out to the administration and then the councillor.
Another way to play your part is to log issues using one of the following channels:
citypower.mobi or download the CityPower app on your smartphone or 0860JOBURG
[email protected] or 0860JOBURG
Joburg Roads Agency
[email protected] or download the JRA Find&Fix app on your smartphone or 0860JOBURG
0860JOBURG or @cleanerjoburg (Twitter)
Please ensure that you obtain a reference after logging an issue, and share this with your councillor who may be able to escalate the matter. It is only when you have a reference number in hand that a councillor can be contacted to oversee or escalate an issue.
A shared future
The vibrant democracy’s future will rest to a large extent on the active role played by stakeholders at the forefront of communities, namely, residents and councillors. Being at the coalface of a vibrant, dynamic and diverse society is an exciting opportunity for everyone. Together we hold the prospect of creating a truly prosperous Johannesburg. It starts with each one of us, regardless of our party affiliation, working together.
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