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Human Sciences Research Council
Integrated Rural and Regional Development

Position paper

Rural development
The provision of basic infrastructure services

David Hemson, Mike Meyer, and Kealeboga Maphunye


January 2004

Posted with permission of Dr David Hemson, Human Sciences Research Council
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Executive summary

The rural areas of South Africa are awaiting an initiative to bring the rural poor into modern services, through new forms of non-farm activities and a revival of agriculture. Traditionally the homelands have been subjected to processes which could be characterised as the development of underdevelopment; now the challenge is to reverse these processes without creating new forms of dependency. There are peculiarities of these rural areas which should be understood to ensure that there is an appreciation of the difficulties of development and the need for a prioritisation of capacity building. Although the poorest of South Africa are concentrated in these areas and there are resources which could be utilised, the migrant labour system has resulted in a sector of society in which decisions are difficult to arrive at and the human resources are often absent.

One of the cruel curiosities of South Africa is that the rural poor do not see agriculture as an answer to their plight; only 4% of the incomes of the poorest come from this source. Through combined and uneven development in which the most modern features of society are articulated with the most backward in medium developed countries, the cities absorb the best educated and most energetic layers of the rural population and leaving the rural areas to the women, children and elderly. This does not mean that the rural areas have lost their capacity to carry millions of South Africa’s citizens, but it does mean that special provision has to be made to ensure that a social dynamic comes into play to carry this sector forward into the modern world. Modernisation to date has been associated with forms of state and economic oppression, now new socio-political initiatives have to be undertaken to empower and develop.

A considerable proportion of the population lives in poverty in the rural areas. Some 70% of poor live in these areas. The non-urban population amounts to 45% of the total population and of these 85% live in the impoverished former homelands. Many other households have intimate ties to the rural areas through the migrant labour system. There have been consistent programs to introduce modern services particularly to the former homeland areas which have been particularly neglected and isolated. Clean water services have been extended to more than half the rural population, clinics and schools are visible symbols of state provision, and electricity pylons criss-cross the landscape.

This extension of services is widely welcomed but there are difficulties appearing. Without an increase in rural livelihoods and incomes the most significant services are threatened by the inability to pay and stay connected. Development reaches its sustainable limits. This is the principal lag in the process of service provision. The other relates to capacity and strategy. Rural local government, with few notable exceptions, is something new in South Africa and the capacity to implement and manage schemes and programs is only now being created. Line departments are passing on responsibilities to local government which they are not always pleased to take on because there are not the financial and human resources available to manage them.

At times there is an absence of strategy. Funding and commitment may be available but the right combination of national, provincial and local initiative is not made. In a number of sectors, notably sanitation, there have been substantial lags which have left rural communities vulnerable to the scourge of cholera and other water-borne diseases.

Accelerated development is not only possible it is necessary to make full use of funding and human resources; this has been dramatically shown in the case of sanitation a sector in which there has been little progress over years. With the threat of cholera particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, communities have become mobilised and assert their rights, the uptake of sanitation subsidies has increased. A by-product of this mobilisation is that the cost of the overall sanitation package per installation has declined. Similarly the Working for Water Programme has had considerable success in mobilising the rural poor to meet an important environmental objective. There are possibilities in housing, roads development, other small-scale construction, and public works generally for scaling up and employing many more of the rural poor.

Tied to the notion of accelerated development is that of integrated development. Here it is argued that the IDPs should be the basis for service delivery by bringing together the targets established by line departments with the growing capacity of local government to operate and maintain.

Section 2.1 identifies three major constraints to rural service delivery: budgetary, state capacity particularly personnel, and institutional and constitutional. It is argued that additional resources do need to be provided if the rural population is to access the services and benefits to which they are entitled. Local government is increasingly being assigned responsibility for service delivery and special provision should be made for the development of rural local government capacity; this should be a feature of all development projects as the existing staff complement is generally recognized to be overstretched. Finally an example is given of the institutional difficulties in implementing critically important projects where there is an absence of clear departmental leadership and poor inter-departmental coordination.

Section 2.2 explores an appropriate mix of social and economic infrastructure. The provision of infrastructure for rural development is referred to as the foundations of social and economic infrastructure and integrated economic activities that have been recognized as being inter-related and mutually supportive. These include areas such as physical infrastructures or physical systems, as well as organizational capabilities and human capacities that strengthen and sustain the social dimensions of development. It is further argued for a stronger emphasis on social development in the short and medium term, in rural areas. It is also recognized that there is a strong linkage between government policies and organizational capacity, and social development outcomes. The provision of resources for social services and the creation of new partnerships for delivery of services are important, but must be implemented within a framework of policies and institutions that provide mechanisms for efficiency and accountability. Individual, household and community capacity to absorb economic change through social risk mechanisms are essential outcomes for sustaining gains in social development. This would include an immediate need to link short term budgetary and/or policy interventions not only to direct increased social assistance in the form of household or individual grants, but also to the role of human capabilities or their assets to the importance of social risk management - developing and designing policies that can reduce the risk to individuals, households, and communities of losing livelihoods and to provide temporary assistance for persons in such dire material need when they are unable to meet their or their families most basic needs (i.e. with additional focus on individuals moving in and out of poverty). The section concludes with a review of the Millennium Development Goals, which set goals for the most poverty-stricken continents internationally, and that they should be targeted specifically on the rural population in a medium developed country such as South Africa.

Section 2.3 attempts to isolate government’s spending priorities in meeting the needs of the poor. Government has set spending priorities over the medium term and large-scale changes can only be made within a limited ambit, but a better prioritisation of spending could bring improved results. With rural development and poverty alleviation taken as synonymous, it is argued that rural development has been neglected in the past and needs to be at the epicenter of spending priorities. A critical view is taken on how different national departments articulate ‘poverty alleviation’, and calls for provincial and national line departments to adhere to legislative requirements to include a needs analysis in their Medium Term Expenditure Framework Strategic Plans and Service Delivery Improvement Plans to inform the national budgetary process in a more demanding way, and that IDPs should be the basis for service delivery by bringing together the targets established by line departments with the growing capacity of local government to operate and maintain.

Section 2.4 considers various options on how integrated departmental development can be enhanced and achieved in practice. Particular focus is given on existing challenges facing interdepartmental and intergovernmental relations, and how, within the South African context, such challenges can be translated into opportunities for accelerated and well coordinated rural service delivery. We further look at the more practical implementation of integrated and interdepartmental coordination and support in terms of particular mechanisms that need to be put in place to improve departmental development culture; prioritization; communication; skills for integrated development; greater flexibility in funding crosscutting issues; political commitment; involvement of all stakeholders and management information systems.

Section 2.5 reflects on sequencing as an important consideration in the rollout of basic services. We debate the issue from the perspective of existing conflicting planning priorities; the need for greater consultation with local communities and an accent on their participation; whether infrastructure be regionally planned to maximize benefits and minimize costs; and lastly, the question on what is priority and what is affordable in the sequencing process is addressed. A critical view is taken on supply driven vis-а-vis demand driven delivery of basic services as far as it relate to need; participation; priority; affordability and the social responsibility of the state in terms of the provision of free basic services. Perhaps the most important assumptions drawn here is that income poverty and poverty alleviation have a crucial bearing on the sequencing in the rollout of basic services, and the need to debunk the myth of a “culture of non-payment” – as argued here - ability to pay is more important than willingness to pay, and no amount of moralizing or threatening is going to alleviate the payments crisis in the country.

Section 2.6 discusses the vital issue of sustainability and argues that the provision of free basic services has decisively changed the nature of sustainability of rural programs. Historically projects have been launched in rural areas on the basis of ‘standalone’ schemes with local communities providing labour and project management. There were many achievements on this basis but against the odds as provision on this basis rested on the poorest of society providing for their services. The decisive shift of service provision is ending standalone schemes but raising new questions of funding to local government in terms of their growing powers and functions. There has to be a reassessment of the present basis of allocation of state expenditure between national and local government.

Section 2.7 contributes to the debate on how government can best involve communities in the creation, operation and maintenance of community assets. Critical to the notion of development, particularly in South Africa, is that of community participation as one of the most important markers of the dividing line between authoritarian forms of delivery and new democratic and more sustainable forms of provision. Obviously, an important part of the provision of services to poor rural communities by the government is the establishment, operation and maintenance of community assets with the involvement of the community members themselves. The involvement of community members in the choosing of assets, in their creation, in their functioning and in making sure that they are sustainable in the long term, falls within the ambit of what is referred to variously as participatory democracy, participatory development or people centered development. We explore state-civil society relations and participatory democracy and budgeting. It is argued that more attention has been directed toward the development and co-ordination of policy and priority-setting processes in the past, with minimal attention being given to implementation and to holding government staff, especially at provincial and local level responsible for their performance. One certain way of doing this is to promote participation by citizens through their organizations of civil society in general, and through the development of the ward system in particular. This will ensure that implementation occurs and that officials are held accountable at all times. The reward for the state in terms of return on money spent makes this not just a worthwhile exercise, but also an essential one.

Section 2.8 looks at how local government can be capacitated to meet the social needs of poor communities. Rural local government is at a fairly early stage of development in most provinces. There are also often considerable distances between administrative centres and rural communities and difficulties in communications. In addition there is a fairly rapid turnover of staff as consultants and companies often take up experienced social consultants. All of this weakens local capacity and raises the priority accorded to education and training. The DPLG has given attention to the generation of local capacity, and comparative experiences need to be studied to understand what strategies successful district councils employ both to retain staff and to increase their ability to manage increasingly large-scale projects. It is argued here that any attempt by the government to promote participation of communities in service/asset management needs to be focused on the empowerment of ward committees and their constituent parts, the institutions of civil society.

Section 2.9 examines the most cost effective ways of delivering services. Cost Effectiveness Analysis is examined as a method of assessment of different methods of delivery and its advantages and disadvantages weighed up. It is argued that it is crucial for the data on delivery to be updated and available for assessment. Examples are provided which examine different approaches to delivery in the provision of clean water and in the cholera intervention. New approaches are needed in sanitation which would be both cheaper and faster to implement.

Section 2.10 discusses the role of the private sector in rural service delivery. There is general support for public private partnerships in government policy, but there is a tension particularly in rural areas between organizations focused on maximizing profits and the ability of the poorest communities to pay. To date private sector engagement in rural development, with the exception of BoTT consortia has been limited. The few concessions which are currently operating and providing water and sanitation services to the poor are under strain and do not offer an attractive prospect to further investment. In securing the empowerment and capacitation of rural local government it is important that ventures under the new rules of engagement do not inhibit local authorities learning to provide a well managed set of public services on their own account.

The report concludes that there is a need for more funding to be provided for rural development, and that this can be absorbed by rural local government if two procedures are followed –- a combination of physical and institutional infrastructure, of the economic with the social there has to be a sharp focus on capacity building in rural communities; and a close association between rural development and poverty alleviation which has to include an extension of social development services to rural communities.

Finally it is argued that rural development is closely associated with the empowerment of rural communities which has to include the encouragement of civil society, public participation in decision-making, and a democratic culture.

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