At OUTA, we firmly believe in the power of organized communities to bring about positive change. We are here to support you every step of the way as you embark on this transformative journey.

“Politics is ruining our towns and cities and this must stop. It is up to us to build communities that can stand their ground and protect municipal integrity,” says Julius Kleynhans, Executive Manager for the Social Innovation Division at OUTA. 

“This year, we saw councillors in eThekwini purposely collapse a city council meeting that sought solutions for the political and service delivery impasse that severely affects the residents of what used to be a leading tourism destination. This cancelled meeting cost ratepayers R500 000, a sum that could have been better invested in addressing municipal shortcomings like plugging leaks and preventing water theft which exacerbates the notorious 54% loss of clean drinking water the City.

Similarly, the appointment of an unknown individual, Thapelo Amad from the lesser-known political party Al Jama-ah as the new mayor for Johannesburg (once the proud economic hub of the continent left residents disheartened). Amad did not endear himself to residents either when – in his first TV interview – he announced that he would focus on potholes during his first 100 days in office. As for a plan to minimise loadshedding in Johannesburg, he didn’t seem to have any ideas and was replaced in May by another Al Jama-ah councillor, Kabelo Gwamanda, who doesn’t have a matric qualification and has been accused of running an insurance fraud.

It’s evident that most politicians prioritize their political careers and party interests over the needs of  the people who pay their salaries. Instead, these politicians pursue a political career where, like in traditional business, the more value you add to your business or political party (generating income if we can call it this) the quicker you get to the top and it is clear that, as an example, being at the top of the ruling party is evidently lucrative.

The for organised action is NOW. United in collective efforts like community forums and residents’ associations which are harder for those in power to ignore. Local government has a clear mandate to provide basivc services and should not be swayed by political ideologies.

Across South Africa, we have witnessed the undeniable influence of organised and active communities. Voting for a candidate is merely the first step in exercising your democratic rights and responsibilities. Holding elected officials accountable and relentlessly pushing for solutions to the country’s challenges country is not only your democratic right, but also your responsibility.

What is an organised community?

Organised communities play a vital role in shaping the future of our towns, cities and ultimately our country. By setting up structures like residents’ associations, community forums or neighbourhood watches residents in an area can come together, network and work towards common goals. These initiatives are essential for demanding accountability and delivery from municipalities to improve service delivery and maintenance, ultimately benefiting residents and businesses, stimulating economic growth. 

Municipal laws enable and encourage public participation. Councils must develop mechanisms for consulting communities, which includes residents, ratepayers and anyone using the municipal services. The South African Local Government Association gives an overview on the law on public participation and municipalities here.

It is in your interests to learn about your right to public participation, how to use it, getting up to speed with what’s going on in your municipality and making your voices heard.

In most communities, we have heard of or seen someone who serves the community without any remuneration. These individuals are usually elected by us, the community members. In fact, these handful of individuals are usually serving on the local community forum or residents’ association, the school governing body, the community safety group etc. In many communities, you may find that it is the same individuals who serve not only on one of these forums but on most of them. 

It may seem convenient to always elect these individuals or propose them to stand for a voluntary position, but we also do so because we trust these leaders and know that they have the ability to take action. These are the individuals we know and trust.

It is these very individuals who also need our help. It is not fair to depend on a few individuals to address some of the most pertinent issues in our daily lives and not give them support. It is crucial for communities to become more organised and to create capacity under these community leaders to address common problems more effectively. 

This is where we as residents need to offer our time, talent and sometimes money. However, it is best to get involved in your area of interest otherwise the sustainability of your contribution may be compromised. We have all been blessed with certain skills, talents and passion. It is this expertise we need to contribute to our community organisations to help make our communities better. This will also create additional capacity for these initiatives to make a bigger impact. It is extremely important though to ensure that one builds these initiatives sustainably. One cannot expect someone to provide three hours a day to voluntary work, even three hours a week can be a lot. The best way to manage this is to increase the capacity to have more volunteers in the specific discipline donating a small amount of time and, where possible, money. The first step is to get involved in your local residents’ association or community forum and, should one not exist, maybe it’s time to start it.

Here are a few examples on how to get involved:

Talent: We all have different interests, skills and talents. Take a farming community where someone with engineering or project management experience helps manage the maintenance of the local dirt road. A graphic designer may help her local residents’ association with information graphics for their weekly social media posts. An ex-policeman may help set up community safety strategies and the taxi association may help with patrols. An interested resident may share useful information picked up from the media on the community WhatsApp group. An accountant or maths teacher may help others understand municipal bills.

Time: The engineer may contribute two days a year to project manage the road. The graphic designer may spend an hour once a week to do the graphics. The ex-policeman may spend two hours every quarter to align the community safety initiatives with the strategy and the 20 taxi drivers may each take a turn to patrol their community every for an hour every second week in a roster that makes sure that random patrolling takes place every day.

Money: Some businesses and community members may be able to afford a lot more than others, but if every community member can pitch in as little as R30 per month, the community organisation will be able to take on much more and larger projects than any community member could ever imagine. 

So, giving as little as one hour of your skilled abilities free of charge to your community initiatives per month and donating 1% of your income to such activities can make all the difference. It is all about community building and serving each other. It has also been proven that where communities are organised, communities are cleaner, safer and property is more valuable. Most importantly, organised communities are more likely to be listened to by their local government and have a say in its affairs. 

Put your weight behind local initiatives and serve your community, and you might just find that giving and serving is one of the most rewarding actions you can take in life. Now get organised and get involved!

OUTA’s social innovation division is ready to assist communities countrywide! Click here to see how we can help:  

CAN (Community Action Network): www.can.org.za 

LINK App, helping to build better communities: www.linkapp.co.za 

WaterCAN, a growing network of citizen science activists and committed water guardians: www.watercan.org.za