This paper is based on a study of HIV/AIDS and local government. The study focused on the challenge of HIV/AIDS as a governance issue, rather than simply a health issue, and gauged the challenges HIV/AIDS poses for local government. The Ekurhuleni metropolitan council (hereafter referred to as Ekurhuleni metro), formerly the East Rand, south east of Johannesburg, was chosen as the area for the study. It was chosen because it had a high concentration of migrant workers in its gold mines and sizable steel manufacturing sector. Also, high levels of unemployment in the area had an impact on the incidence of HIV/AIDS among inhabitants.
The enormity of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the broader southern African region is a vast challenge to societies and the democratisation processes that are under way. In the early 1980s this epidemic caught governments and societies around the globe unaware and many actors and sectors have been slow to respond to the enormity of the crisis. Local government in South Africa, as an important sphere of governance, is one such sector that has been severely affected by the pandemic, yet has been very slow to
respond to the challenge. Today, the local government sphere has to confront a multitude of challenges, including the health challenge, the implications for service delivery and more broadly, the consequences for governance.
Just as an example of how key a challenge this is, some questions, posed by interviewees went thus: who will sympathize with whom since each one of us has death in the family daily? Who will mourn whom? And who will bury whom? Who will feed whom, since the breadwinners are all dying? If HIV/AIDS is merely allowed to continue with its peril to our societies, then who is going to deliver and receive services, and who will maintain democratic governance?1
The paper is based on in-depth interviews with Ekurhuleni metro local councillors (part time, full time and proportional representational (PR) councillors) and council officials. The interviews sought to gauge and understand the views of the metro government on the impact of the epidemic on service delivery and democratic governance and to probe the responses to the pandemic at local level. Interviews also sought to understand councillors’ roles as elected representatives charged with providing services, in relation to the extent of the epidemic within the metro. Efforts were made to ensure that the selection of local councillors would reflect the views of the major political parties represented in the Ekurhuleni metro. Time constraints and reluctance by some local councillors and council officials prevented us from gathering more information and engaging more local councillors and officials in the interviews. Ironically, this reluctance to openly engage this issue is one of the factors that militate against an open discussion and resolution of the governance challenges brought on by this pandemic.
This paper is divided into four sections. Section one focuses on the importance of local government in combating the HIV/AIDS pandemic, while section two discusses the current policies on HIV/AIDS in South Africa. The third section addresses the impact of HIV/AIDS on local governance and service delivery. Finally, section four details the case study of the Ekurhuleni metro.
Interview with a member of mayoral Committee (MMC) – Ekurhuleni metro – 2004