In May 2021, a journal article by Lisa Chamberlain and SERI researcher Thato Masiangoako entitled, ‘Third time lucky? Provincial intervention in the Makana Local Municipality’ was published in the South African Law Journal (Volume 138 Part 2). The article discusses a recent case in which the Eastern Cape High Court, Grahamstown ordered the dissolution of the Makana Municipal Council as part of a provincial intervention. The article unpacks the law governing Section 139 interventions and, drawing on the Makana example, questions the efficacy of such interventions in addressing municipal failure.
South African local government is plagued by financial mismanagement and poor governance, resulting in widespread failure to realize socio-economic rights. One of the key mechanisms envisaged by the Constitution to address municipalities in crisis is provincial intervention in terms of s 139. However, although this mechanism is frequently used, its results have been underwhelming. This article discusses a recent case in which the Eastern Cape High Court, Grahamstown ordered the dissolution of the Makana Municipal Council as part of a provincial intervention. The article unpacks the law governing s 139 interventions and, drawing on the Makana example, questions the efficacy of provincial interventions. Further, a number of factors are identified which must be taken into consideration in order to maximise the chances that a provincial intervention might succeed. These include whether mandatory or discretionary intervention is appropriate; when the dissolution of a municipal council is an appropriate component of an intervention; the relationship between provincial intervention, stable governance and political influence; and the timing, funding and institutional arrangements of an intervention. The article concludes by highlighting the important role that community activism can play in catalysing intervention, but draws attention to the fact that such action can be dangerous for the activists involved.
The article draws from the research in one of the case studies in the Claiming Water Rights in South Africa research series, "Makana local municipality – provincial intervention in a municipal crisis".