Engaging South African Local Government

Posted by Reta Jo Lewis
September 14, 2011
Special Representative Lewis During MOU Signing in South Africa

The South African Local Government Association's (SALGA) National Conference kicked off August 29 in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and focused on the theme of "Building Municipal and Social Cohesion for Quality and Sustainable Services: 2011 and Beyond." I attended the conference to witness and support the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between SALGA and the National League of Cities (NLC), the United States' oldest and largest organization devoted to strengthening and promoting cities.

The historic MOU is geared around capacity building with a focus on governance, sustainability, social housing, municipal finance, and economic and community development. Furthermore, the MOU promotes subnational collaboration between these two city organizations, whose leaders see the agreement as a natural partnership given their similar objectives.

SALGA is South Africa's national association for municipalities dedicated to transforming local governance. The association derives its mandate from the Republic of South Africa's 2006 constitution, which defines SALGA as the voice of local government. With a membership of 278 municipalities, the organization is celebrating 10 years of local government this year, and has made great strides towards inclusive, responsive, and effective local governance.

NLC is a U.S. non-profit organization dedicated to helping city leaders build better communities, and advocating for more than 19,000 U.S. cities, towns, and villages. One of its focus areas is developing international relationships that foster increased trade, skills exchange, and capacity building. Representing the NLC delegation at the SALGA conference was former NLC President, James Hunt, who is a Councilmember from Clarksburg, West Virginia, and Alderman Joe Davis from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

While in Durban, which is part of the eThekwini Municipality, I also met with KZN Premier Dr. Zweli Mkhize, Mayor James Nxumalo of eThekwini Municipality, Mayor Parks Tau of Johannesburg, and councilors throughout the country in order to promote subnational engagement between U. S. and South African local leaders. The State Department sees this collaboration as continuing to broaden and deepen the U.S.-South Africa bilateral relationship.

There are many opportunities for subnational partnerships between our two countries at the local level. Cities, municipalities, and universities in the United States are interested in working with their counterparts throughout South Africa. In addition, many U.S. cities and states are interested in opportunities to develop and expand new and existing sister city and sister state relationships. Approximately 15 of these partnerships already exist between the United States and South Africa, which are working to further peer-to-peer relationships around common issues and priorities at the subnational level. We continue to work with Ambassador Donald Gips and our colleagues at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria and the U.S. Consulate in Durban to promote these relationships.

Subnational cooperation with South Africa is built on an already strong U.S.-South Africa bilateral relationship. This relationship has strengthened over the years as the two countries have cooperated on many important foreign policy goals relating to law enforcement, trade, transportation, health, and agriculture. Secretary Clinton and South Africa's Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane met last December in Washington, D.C. under the auspices of the U.S.-South Africa Strategic Dialogue, created in April 2010. The two governments signed the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief Partnership (PEPFAR) framework, which has been essential in guiding efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in South Africa.

Seeing the close cooperation between Americans and South Africans in Durban was very encouraging to the Department of State. Promoting collaboration between state and local leaders and their counterparts abroad is an important part of meeting our foreign policy objectives. The MOU signed in Durban last week is the type of collaboration that is the true essence of our work -- the promotion of state-to-state, city-to-city, and association-to-association global relationships.

For more information on the NLC and SALGA, please visit: www.nlc.org or www.salga.org.za.

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