Launch of the UN-COGTA partnership for the District Development Model implementation in O.R.Tambo District, Eastern Cape

The District Development Model represents a reimagining of the developmental space in South Africa to address service inefficiency gaps.

Thank you to the Programme Director. Good morning to:

  • The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, the Honourable Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma
  • the Premier of the Eastern Cape, Mr. Oscar Mabuyane (in abstentia)
  • The MEC of Cogta in the Eastern Cape
  • Executive Mayors, Chief Whips and Speakers of OR Tambo, eThekwini and Waterberg Districts
  • Executive Mayors of the local municipalities present
  • Councilors of the Municipalities present
  • The Director-general of the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs
  • Excellencies
  • UN South Africa family and partners
  • Members of the media
  • Our Esteemed guests – ladies and gentlemen allow me to stand on the shoulders of the preceding speakers and say All Protocols Observed

On behalf of the United Nations in South Africa, allow me to express my pleasure at reaching this important milestone, the launching of our partnership with the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs to realise the ambition and vision of the District Development Model. Honorable Minister, I want to assure you of our commitment as the United Nations to walk this road with you and see this programme through.

I am also honoured to be here in the district that bears the name of Oliver Reginald Tambo. A figure synonymous with democracy, duty and sacrifice. For many of us, myself included, he was a towering figure that represented decency and determination in the face of darkness.  O.R Tambo district is still a far cry from his hopes and dreams for the people of this area and indeed for people in many parts of the country.

South Africa still bears the scars of Apartheids policies which have placed a heavy burden on successive government administrations as they have struggled to overcome deprivation and to deliver services. The twisted experiment of race-based policies that Apartheid conducted on the marginalized and vulnerable have echoed on for generations. We are determined to do our part to help you overcome this bitter legacy.

An added value of the UN System is not just the technical expertise and mandates of the 17 UN Agencies, Funds and Programmes and the Bretton Woods institutions represented in South Africa.  It is also the UNs unparalleled wealth of experience working across the Global South, over decades and in a myriad of contexts. This experience, often hard won, has taught us a number of lessons. I would like to draw your attention to three lessons that we will need to absorb to be successful.

  • One, that it is imperative to fully invest in local governance and local service delivery.
  • Two is to support programming that empowers citizenry and;
  • Three that these programmes must be informed by local consultation and local context.

Minister, when you honoured us with your presence at the UN retreat in 2019, you highlighted the need to focus on local governance. Local government is where citizens and their Government interact the most, where most services are delivered, it is where for most people the government’s trust and legitimacy is won or lost.    Since the advent of democracy in South Africa an impressive policy landscape has evolved, but this has not always been matched by outcomes. To function effectively local government needs to be empowered, to be resourced and capacitated to be a driver of local development.  Citizens are still having to travel long distances and even sleeping on the streets to access basic services only available in urban centres. We must reenergize our efforts to ensure that services reach all communities, and are focused on their needs.

Government benefits from an empowered citizenry, in which local concerns are heard and met and accountability is mutual. Empowered citizens become active participants in their own development. They can help catalyze change through their engagement. Our experience has taught us that empowered citizens are more innovative, and more likely to find their own solutions to the challenges they face. Our programmes and our work must seek to foster this empowerment and to build in community inclusivity and decision-making into their structures.

The third lesson is an essential one. Basing your programming around local consultation and within the local context not only increases the chances of success but builds legitimacy and trust. Programmes have to be designed and adapted around local realities or they will be doomed to fail. There are rarely a successful examples of a one-size fits all programme. Ensuring that consultation is built into programming informs localized design but also increases community acceptance of the programme.

The DDM represents a reimagining of the developmental space in South Africa. The three pilot districts, Waterberg, O.R Tambo and eThekwini represent different contexts spatially and developmentally; but they each face huge and similar obstacles of poverty, unemployment and inequality and the associated social challenges that follow. The UN system, through the UNSCDF, is realigning itself to support local government and service delivery. To place its resources and expertise at the disposal of municipalities and their citizens.

As we worked in partnership over these last months, I am immensely proud of how we developed and endorsed the District Implementation Plans. Within these plans I would like to highlight three signature projects the Business Solution Centres and the reinvigorated Thusong and Thuthuzela Care Centre’s will help drive investment and service delivery.  They will also act as portals for further interventions. I am particularly excited about establishing Songhai centres, which have a proven track record of successfully boosting agriculture, but in a way that is sustainable. They are a driver of employment and growth, while encouraging food security, they are a fitting embodiment of what the Sustainable Development Goals seek to achieve. These signature projects seek to empower citizens through the enhanced provision of services and bringing citizens and local government closer together.

The process of drafting Implementation plans for the DDM has been one of constant consultation and engagement between the UN, COGTA and the districts. We have worked together to envisage a series of key interventions that align to the local context and to understand and address what has hampered development and service delivery in the past. Together, at every step we are seeking to ensure that community engagement, through steering committees and other forums, inform decision making.

The outcome is a joint plan, endorsed by all tiers of Government and the UN. The plans are coauthored and locally tailored and they vary according to the local context and need. The crafting of our shared plan comes with a shared responsibility to implement it. It is a process of establishing mutual goals and mutual accountability between partners.

This last year has given us a sobering lesson of how shocks and disaster can upend our plans. COVID is both a disaster, but also a warning. We need to build resiliency into all of our work. In a country and continent faced with devastating climate change, even at the global target of 1.5 degrees, adaptation has to be considered with every new project and undertaking going forth. We are in an ever more uncertain world, COVID has shown us that we cannot take things for granted, it will require more planning, greater efforts and above all robust and unflinching solidarity.

Nationally, COGTA has been an ideal partner to the United Nations. I am delighted at the consultative and collaborative spirit that has been established and we are extremely grateful for the trust that has been placed in the UN. We are especially very grateful for the strong support that we have received from the Director General, Ms. Avril Williamson and her team. As we go forward COGTA will help us fully integrate the DDM into the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework through their critical role in Ministerial and Technical steering committees. I would also like to acknowledge and thank the municipalities of Waterberg and O.R. Tambo, who have been accommodating and open, and have made us feel welcome in their homes.  I am also grateful to my UN Country Team, who have demonstrated outstanding commitment to helping shape this process to date and will be the driving force that realizes our contribution to the DDM. Over the last few months our partnership has strengthened and will continue to do so as we start the process of implementing our collective plan.

Minister, I would like to end by thanking you personally. Your insights have helped shape our thinking and your leadership is why we are all here today. We are inspired by your commitment to your people, and we are here and ready to make this a model for South Africa and for the Global South to follow. 

I thank you!

Speech by
Nardos Bekele-Thomas
Resident Coordinator
Nardos Bekele-Thomas
UN entities involved in this initiative
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
UN Women
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
United Nations Information Centre
United Nations Children’s Fund
United Nations Industrial Development Organization
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
World Food Programme
World Health Organization