Yonatan Fessha, Dullah Omar Institute, University of the Western Cape
Relevance of the Practice
Identifying the effective way to deliver services is something that South African policy-makers continue to grapple with. This is crucial for a number of reasons. Past models for public service delivery have not performed as well as anticipated. They have been blamed for stagnated socio-economic development, incomplete projects and wasteful expenditure. They have also failed to prevent violent service delivery protests that have actually been markedly increasing in magnitude and intensity over the past few years. Officially launched by President Cyril Ramaphosa at a Presidential Imbizo in OR Tambo District Municipality in the Eastern Cape in early September 2019, the district-based coordination model seeks to overcome the challenges of inadequate service delivery that are traced back to the problem of the different spheres of government operating in silos.
Description of the Practice
The horizontal and vertical silos that characterize the workings of the three spheres of government are often blamed for the lack of integrated planning and implementation. This, according to President Ramaphosa, ‘has made monitoring and oversight of government programmes and projects difficult’. This state of affairs has been blamed for the non-optimal delivery of services and diminished impact on the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment.
The district coordinated development model presents a fresh perspective by seeking to move away from a system of service delivery that is dependent on each sphere aligning their plans with the other spheres towards a system that is based on joint planning. As mentioned in the Introduction to the System of Local Government in South Africa, South Africa has a two-tiered system of local government, in which districts and local municipalities share legislative and executive authority, and there is a hierarchy between districts and local municipalities. Districts comprise of both urban and rural areas, but exclude metropolitan municipalities. The argument is that the multiple demands for spatially integrated planning and better public service delivery in the context of multi-level government can be best addressed through a system in which ‘all three spheres of government work off a common strategic alignment platform’. The district-based coordination model is presented as a vehicle for joint planning which can aid both rural and urban municipalities to fulfil their constitutional development mandate (Section 152 of the Constitution) and by so doing support local municipalities, and especially rural municipalities which tend to struggle in terms of capacity and infrastructure planning and implementation. At the centre of the District Level Model is the single Joined-Up One Plan through which policies and programmes are implemented by each sphere of government. Each of the 44 districts is regarded as a centre of service delivery and economic development, the space in which each sphere of government uses its development plans to address strategic government priorities. The same applies to the 8 metros.
As a model of service delivery that operates within the existing constitutional framework for cooperative governance and intergovernmental relations, it requires national, provincial and local government to focus on their mandate areas when putting together a plan for each district. That is why the model is seen as ‘practical Intergovernmental Relations (IGR) mechanism’. The expected end product is one plan for each of the 44 districts and 8 metros.
A critical role of government is ensuring that the local, provincial and national spheres have a spatially integrated single government plan to drive development in the districts, which is especially important for rural municipalities within the districts as a new avenue for their development. Localized procurement and job creation are key components of the model. It is envisaged that local businesses will participate in and benefit from the development, and that citizens in the district concerned will be prioritized for employment on local projects. Government consultation of social partners is viewed as a key component of ensuring that development addresses the basic needs of stakeholders and local communities.
Assessment of the Practice
Through pursuing single, integrated district plans enabled by the vision of ‘One District; One Plan; One Budget; One Approach’, the model breaks with a past in which development was variegated, differentiated and discerned. Important is the fact that the model was endorsed by Cabinet, local government structures, traditional (rural) authorities and the President’s Coordinating Council (PCC), seemingly bolstering the prospects for success, diminishing chances of competition and friction among the various arms of government assigned public service delivery functions.
The prospects for success appear to exponentially surge given that with effect from the 2020/21 budget cycle, national budgets and programmes will be spatially referenced across the 44 districts and 8 metros. In the same vein, provincial government budgets and programmes will be spatially referenced to districts and metros in the respective provinces. Similarly, municipalities will express the needs and aspirations of communities in integrated development plans for the 44 districts and 8 metros.
However, despite the best intentions of the model, there are seemingly a number of impediments in its way. Coordination will be a mammoth task. The model brings together national, provincial, district and local municipalities. These are institutions that are often grappling with facilitating a common understanding of the service delivery challenges besetting local communities and how best they can be addressed. This is a challenge that seemingly requires energy sapping negotiations, mediation and consultation. A related challenge is the issue of how quickly district coordinating officers can be appointed, trained and facilitated to lead development planning under the new model.
The district development service delivery model claims to ‘implement a balanced approach towards development between urban and rural areas’. The fact that the joint planning approach takes place within the existing framework of division of powers suggests that the new model does not represent the formulation of service delivery planning by a higher level of government that is not in touch with the realities of rural municipalities. Each government retains their constitutionally assigned responsibilities. Arguably, the fact that they are now required to work together gives them an opportunity to have a universal view of the district in question, including the urban-rural divide. After all, each municipal district is regarded as a single space for joint planning in terms of this model.
It is also important to address the funding dimensions to the district coordinated development model given that this is an exercise that requires huge amounts of money, coordination effort and goodwill to roll out and realize. In the literature, uncertainties and misgivings have often been expressed about the role of districts in facilitating local development, with some suggesting the abolition of district councils and conferring their responsibilities on local municipalities. A common proposition in this contention is that local municipalities are better placed to champion better service delivery given that they are the closest sphere of government in touch with communities. It is, however, too early to determine whether the envisaged model will put an end to these reservations. Only time will tell.
References to Scientific and Non-Scientific Publications
Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, ‘Towards a District Coordinated Development Model: Concept Note’ (2019)
 Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa on The Presidency Budget Vote 2019/2010 (National Assembly, 17 July 2019) <http://www.thepresidency.gov.za/speeches/address-president-cyril-ramaphosa-presidency-budget-vote-2019-2010%2C-national-assembly%C2%A0>.
 See report section 5.4. on Intergovernmental Relations in Integrated Development Planning.
 Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, ’Concept Note: New District Coordination Model to Improve the Coherence and Impact of Government Service Delivery and Development’ (2019) <https://edse.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/New-District-Metro-Coordination-Model-Concept-Note.pdf>.
 Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, ‘Towards a District Coordinated Development Model: Concept Note’ (2019).