The key role of ward councillors in community conflict prevention in South Africa
The importance of ward councillors is constantly overlooked. They are blamed for the poor delivery of services and praised for innovative initiatives. Their role in promoting social cohesion, however, is rarely mentioned. Yet, the personality and leadership of the ward councillor is often integral to the peace or violence present in the area he or she represents.
The role of the councillor is fraught with a duality that often goes unacknowledged. They are responsible to their electorate and also to the municipal council, a situation that often seems impossible to navigate. You will find councillors who are responsive to people in their ward but who lack the capacity to make good decisions in the council. On the other hand, you also find councillors who are true leaders at the municipal level but are inaccessible to the residents in their ward.
It is rare to find a councillor who can be good at both functions. Adhering to both these functions can be difficult and requires a certain finesse, which most councillors simply do not have. To navigate this balance, councillors need to promote good governance and social cohesion with co-operation, communication, accountability, accessibility, impartiality and personal integrity.