IDASA, 29 November 2007
The Governance and AIDS Programme (GAP) at IDASA has just embarked on an exciting new research project to assess the impact of HIV/AIDS on local government in South Africa. Following in the footsteps of GAP’s multi-national research project on the relationship between HIV/AIDS and democratic governance, the new project takes the investigation a few crucial steps further, by zooming in on the realities of HIV/AIDS at local level. The main focus of the study is the effect HIV/AIDS is having on local politicians and their constituencies and whether this might eventually impact on the quality of democracy at local level and/or the efficient functioning of municipal councils Done under the auspices of the AIDS, Security and Conflict Initiative (ASCI) and funded by the Netherlands Institute of International Relations- Clingendael and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the study essentially investigates whether HIV/AIDS can contribute to state fragility at local governance level. For a variety of reasons – both internal and external to local government – the majority of local government bodies in South Africa operate more or less in a permanent state of crisis, often besieged from all sides. Local government is the crucial tier of government where policy and reality intersect and where many of the country’s socio-economic challenges and service backlogs have to be addressed, often in a context of inadequate budgets, huge capacity problems and an evergrowing crisis around service delivery, as witnessed in the ever-growing number of community struggles and protests around the country.
The study will therefore investigate the notion of ‘state fragility’ at local government level, based on the premise that it will more likely be a combination of the abovementioned factors and the widespread effect of HIV/AIDS, that can in time introduce indicators of fragility at a local political level. The policy goal of the project is to enrich local authorities’ responses to the pandemic by broadening the scope of knowledge and therefore strategic options available to mitigate impact on South African communities. Fieldwork has already commenced in 16 municipalities in four provinces, viz. the Western Cape, Northern Cape, Free State and Kwa-Zulu-Natal. Apart from the latter, the project team has tried to steer clear of the provinces most often targetted by researchers and chosen instead those that are usually neglected or left out. A clear bias towards periurban and rural areas was also built into the project, as researchers often tend to concentrate on more accessible urban areas and metropolitan local government.
Apart from interviews with senior municipal officials and councillors, a number of focus group discussions will be held with community members in some of the selected municipal areas, in order to gain a sense of ordinary people’s perceptions of HIV/AIDS and the performance of local government bodies and local politicians in their areas.
These discussions will hopefully add a lot more down-to-the-ground, textured information to the wider picture on local government and HIV/AIDS that we are hoping to develop in this study. The study will be concluded in May 2008.
Hermien Kotzé, Research Leader
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