Decentralise power, minimise problems

Martin van Staden / Midjourney
Martin van Staden / Midjourney

This article was first published by Daily Friend on 6 March 2024 

If we want to minimise the problems facing South African society, then we need to decentralise it and embrace a federal system.

That means giving more power to the provinces, districts, municipalities, and local councils. The more localised and separate decision-making becomes, the less we’ll see South Africa’s endemic problems of bad policy, corruption, and incompetence seep throughout the country.

The ANC government is obsessed with keeping South Africa as tightly controlled by its absolutist, centralist authority as possible. But this is not what South Africans need. After decades of ANC rule, we’ve learnt that the ANC can’t even fix the problems in the Union Building – much less across this vast country.

Monopolies and central planning have devastated the country. Eskom’s lack of competitors and centralised incompetence have led to rolling blackouts. Transnet’s sole power over all infrastructure has resulted in decay and a logistics crisis. Not to mention how national legislation has ensured that not even well-run localities can truly fix all the issues affecting them.

When a monopoly breaks something, that breakage can be felt across everything it touches.

The virtue of decentralisation is that it spreads out problems, dilutes them and mitigates risk. When an organisation is centrally run, answering to a single leadership with uniform policies, then a single problem will infuse every branch of that organisation. The same thing happens in South Africa.

Unemployment and corruption

When the ANC government passes bad laws like BEE, this leads to unemployment and corruption in the Western Cape. It doesn’t matter that Western Cape voters don’t want BEE, because the ANC runs South Africa as a single entity.

But with decentralisation, in the form of a federal system in which all provinces run their affairs independently, the Western Cape would be able to ignore legislation like BEE and pass its own laws. It could pass legislation that catered to the Western Cape’s specific context: perhaps, lightening regulations to solve endemic unemployment, or improving local law enforcement to deal with gangsterism.

Decentralisation allows local government to not be affected by the mistakes of the national government, and to not be hurt by the mistakes of even other local governments. It also encourages localities to perform better.

We can already see how the Western Cape’s limited autonomy has led to it becoming a better place to live in. South Africans have flocked to the Cape to benefit from better governance.

In a federal system, all provinces would be in competition to pass the best laws, ensure the best governance, and curb corruption and crime, to encourage their residents and taxpayers to stay. If a province refuses to improve, its residents can escape its incompetence and move to a better province.

Good legislation will fuel economic growth. This will allow once poverty-stricken provinces to be able to invest in local infrastructure, not run by a rotten Transnet, and encourage the retention of its residents.


Corruption will also be mitigated. Local government politicians will need to be more accountable, as they are elected from their communities to serve their communities. If corruption does appear in a locality, it will not necessarily spread to another local government. Without centralised ministries, departments and parastatals, corruption will stay only at a local level – quarantined from well-behaving localities.

South Africa’s endemic problems of bad legislation, law enforcement incompetence, bad governance, and corruption all spread easily through its centralised society. If we want to see these problems reduced, we need to ensure that local governments are enabled to make their own decisions and run their own affairs.

Only under a federal, decentralised system will we see what South African society is truly capable of.


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The views expressed in the article are the author’s and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation. This article may be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the author.




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