Center-led Fiscal Reform and the Rise of Regional Power Blocs in a Limpopo Municipality, 1980-2020

Monday, 22 May, 2023 - 16:00

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This article considers the changing role of a local municipality in the political economy of the Waterberg region of Limpopo. It considers the effects that centre-led processes of municipal fiscal reform over the course of the 1980s and 1990s have had on local and regional politics, and it suggests that this offers one dimension through which to understand why Limpopo has long proved a troublesome region for successive national South African governments, across the apartheid and post-apartheid decades. In section I, I consider the outcomes of attempts by the national government to reform and soften apartheid in the 1980s. Even as the National Party moved to introduce forms of regional government which had greater emphasis on the redistribution of revenues across racial boundaries, lily-white Conservative Party-controlled local councils sought to entrench fiscal segregation and resist inclusion in the Regional Services Councils (RSCs). In section II, I show how this resistance ultimately failed in the face of national transitional processes. By the end of the 1990s, the CP was a spent force. However, what resulted from the period of the local government transition fell far from the aspirations of “wall-to-wall democratic local government”. In section III, I argue that post-apartheid municipal reform which has overseen an expansion of the developmental role of local government, guided by principles of fiscal austerity and outsourcing, has given rise to new forms of local and regional laagering which resists central government and party control. Against the backdrop of local economic decline, local politicians have used revenues distributed by the national treasury to build an independent political base within regional and provincial structures of the ANC.

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