Elsabe Jacobs – South Africa

Elsabe Jacobs – South Africa

Date: June 26, 2012
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Councillor Elsabe Jacobs has only been a councillor in the Umjindi local council in Mpumalanga, South Africa since March 2006 but her focus is on consulting with and including all of her constituents in the issues that affect them.

One of the 50 percent ward councillors in South Africa and a member of the DA she speaks about the importance of ward committees and how they should be inclusive of all sectors of society. Her constituency in Ward six of the Umjindi Municipality which includes the Barberton CBD includes a great diversity of cultures and ranges also from very poor to wealthy constituents.

At the time of the interview, ward council elections had just taken place. The elections created a lot of tensions because she insisted that she didn’t “want the committee to be made up of only white members. I’m a person who believes in having a very strong foundation so that you can also have open communication channels, particularly if it is a big ward. You must have people on the ward committee who can inform you all the time of what is happening in each section of the ward.”

She began by dividing her ward into eight sections based on geographical locations. In each of these sections the person voted to stand on the committee had to reside in the block and commit to staying in that block until the council term ends.

Jacobs enlisted the help of an engineer friend who got a map of the ward and divided it into blocks A-H. Individual maps for each block helped residents and those standing for elections to know their locations and boundaries. Meetings with churches and schools followed. Principals, teachers and church leaders helped to distribute the maps on their notice boards.

Before she calls committee meetings Jacobs goes to each block with the relevant member to gather information on all the issues that need to be addressed, and documents them. From this information a memo is drawn up and sent to community members prior to the meeting and serves as the meeting notification as well as the agenda. “I have already started this process in one section, and so far it is going well,” she says.

This homework makes it possible for meetings to focus on solutions rather than problems; “I want us to discuss what we are going to do about them and prevent them from happening again. By so doing we are planning ahead. I want us to spend time on the Integrated Development Plan (IDP) for the next five years. Once all the issues and problems of each block have been noted, I will call a ward committee meeting where we will go over all the issues mentioned in each block and see what needs to be prioritised.”

She adds that she doesn’t necessarily know everything but that being visible and getting the community inputs is something she can do. “The municipal manager has to be involved to give me guidance. At this moment I have no clue on what has to be really done for a successful IDP, what I can do is to be visible to my people, and get their inputs.”


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