Illiteracy among councillors affects service delivery

South Africa - Cape Town - A women walks in the rain with an umbrella past an IEC election poster. The rain caused a slow start to the elections in some parts of the Western Cape. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency(ANA)

South Africa - Cape Town - A women walks in the rain with an umbrella past an IEC election poster. The rain caused a slow start to the elections in some parts of the Western Cape. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Aug 5, 2023


Carol Olerato Manyaapelo and Dominic Maphaka

According to the skills audit conducted by the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) provincial co-operative governance department on July 9, nearly 300 councillors in the province cannot read and write.

The literacy of councillors in municipalities has a huge impact on local government service delivery, therefore, the skills audit report justifies why KwaZulu-Natal is faced with a high number of poor service delivery challenges.

Literacy is a fundamental skill which enables individuals to access and understand information, communicate effectively and make informed decisions. When councillors lack basic literacy skills, it hampers their ability to fulfil their roles and responsibilities effectively, leading to a range of negative consequences such as poor service delivery for the local communities.

Municipal officials are required to comprehend and interpret important information such as policy documents and legislation, therefore it is concerning that a huge number of councillors in one province are illiterate. It also may lead to poor financial management in local government.

One of the concerns regarding the skills audit report by the KZN provincial cooperative governance is do the councillors who lack literacy skills understand the intricacies of local government procedures. A lack of comprehension can result in misinterpretation of policies, incorrect implementation, and ineffective governance. It also limits the councillor’s capacity to engage in meaningful discussions and contribute constructively to local government debates.

Councillors with low literacy levels may struggle to articulate their thoughts, express ideas clearly, or engage in productive dialogue with fellow councillors, government officials, or community members. Effective communication is essential for understanding the needs and concerns of constituents, as well as for advocating for their interests. When councillors cannot effectively understand and convey information, it undermines their ability to represent the community and address local issues appropriately.

Councillors need to access and comprehend various reports, studies, and statistics to make informed decisions that can positively impact their communities. Without adequate literacy skills, they may struggle to navigate complex information, leading to uninformed choices, inefficient resource allocation, and ineffective service delivery.

Furthermore, illiteracy among councillors can exacerbate corruption and unethical practices within local government. When councillors cannot read or write, they may become vulnerable to manipulation or rely heavily on intermediaries who may exploit their illiteracy for personal gain. This undermines transparency, accountability, and good governance, eroding public trust and confidence in the local government system.

To address the impact of illiteracy on local government service delivery, it is crucial to prioritise literacy programmes and initiatives.

Investing in adult literacy programmes, training workshops, and capacity-building initiatives can empower councillors to enhance their literacy skills. Additionally, providing accessible resources, such as plain-language versions of documents, can help councillors better understand and engage with crucial information.

Furthermore, fostering a culture of continuous learning and professional development for councillors is essential. This can involve encouraging participation in training programmes, mentorship opportunities, and knowledge-sharing platforms.

Strengthening partnerships with educational institutions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and other stakeholders can also contribute to improving literacy levels among councillors.

In conclusion, illiteracy among councillors has a detrimental impact on local government service delivery. It hinders their ability to understand policies, communicate effectively, make informed decisions, and address community needs. By prioritising literacy programmes and providing support for councillors, South Africa can empower its local government representatives to better serve their communities, enhance transparency, and foster effective governance.

It emerges from the above that the ANC’s commitment to professionalise the public service sector will have to go the extra mile. In keeping with its commitment to professionalise the public service sector, the ANC should introduce a provision in its constitution that requires passing matric as an entry requirement for members that it sends to work in all spheres of government.

Moreover, as the majority party, the ANC should coalesce with opposition parties that have been vocal about the need for educated leaders such as the EFF to table a bill in the National Assembly that would when implemented, legalise the requirement of having a matric certificate as a requirement for people to serve in the legislature and other spheres of government.

It is not far-fetched that the EFF is the opposition party that has benefited largely from education to advance the party’s programmes, strategies and policies in and outside government. Learning from its rival, the EFF, that has in many respect pre-empt the culture of negligence and complacency using education as the bedrock of its decisions, the ANC should prioritise education in its structures and encourage cadres to have matric as the least form of education.

Among other things, the ANC should give its members who do not have a matric-level education a grace period of five years through which they could register to complete their matric or any form of education that could be equivalent to matric.

Manyaapelo and Maphaka are from the University of Johannesburg Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation.

The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL.