Intergovernmental relations and cooperative environmental governance in KwaZulu-Natal : the rural context and challenges.
After an extended period of apartheid and its inherent ills, the first democratic elections were finally held in 1994 in South Africa. Major changes in governance issues had to be effected in order to improve the well-being of millions of South Africans living in abject poverty. One of the major structural changes made by the democratic government with regards to governance was to introduce a threesphere governmental structure comprised of national, provincial and local spheres. Through the system of intergovernmental relations and cooperative governance, powers and functions of the three spheres are defined as well as the inter-relationship between them. Local government has been identified as the sphere closest to the people and therefore critical to service delivery. Over the last five years, local governance issues have been receiving increasing attention as it has been realized that in order for the government to improve human well-being, local governments have to be efficient and competent. However, there is an impasse within the sphere of local government which is posing a serious challenge to service delivery, especially in rural areas. This impasse is related to roles and responsibilities of traditional leadership vis-a-vis municipal councillors. This problem is more noticeable in the former homeland areas where considerable power used to be in the hands of traditional leaders during the apartheid era. This study used case study evidence from the Department of Social Welfare and Population Development led poverty alleviation project, the Imbothimuni Flagship Programme, to investigate the role of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as a catalyst for improving the state of intergovernmental relations and cooperative environmental governance. The project was implemented in the rural village of Imbothimuni at Mid-Illovo in KwaZulu-Natal. The findings of the study showed that there remains a lack of cooperation between traditional leadership and municipal councillors. The democratic government's initiatives to strengthen local government and enhance service delivery are not realized where there are conflicts and ambivalence over who should exercise the leading role in rural development. A myriad of legislative provisions have been drafted to legitimize the institution of traditional leadership, but they still fail to provide a legislative framework within which traditional leaders and municipal officials can cooperate. As a result of this lack of cooperation, developmental imperatives continue to be compromised and environmental degradation persists. The in-depth analysis of the legislative provisions relevant to traditional leadership shows that the government has resolved to legitimize the institution, in spite of the controversial debate on this notion. What is needed as a matter of urgency is a succinct legislative framework within which traditional leaders and municipal councillors can operate without conflict. The study revealed that the role of EIA in bringing together stakeholders, including traditional leaders and municipal councillors, is invaluable. The study also revealed that there is an urgent need for environmental awareness campaigns aimed at municipal officials, grass roots communities and most importantly, the traditional leaders.
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