So, the elections have come and gone. And only time will tell if our votes resulted in the much needed improvement in our country. We will have to wait for the next opportunity, such as municipal elections or by-elections, to have our next say in our government. Or do we? Not necessarily.

You are aware that you can still have your say through community forums. In the Garden Route, we are fortunate to have a number of these forums to represent us that try to improve our immediate surrounds. One of these forums being the Ratepayers Associations.

Let us take a closer look at this type of public forum. Ratepayers Associations are in essence voluntary, non-profit organisations that provide a communication forum for their members with the authorities. These associations developed in Britain as watchdogs to prevent wasteful municipal spending. I managed to find records as far back as 1930 in the Buckinghamshire Archives recording the history of Ratepayers Associations.

Other than in overseas countries, Ratepayers Associations in South Africa are non-political community watchdogs that provide a forum to discuss concerns of businesses and residents. Ratepayers Associations typically draw from community members with a business background and professional experience to address matters of social concern. These can range from improvement of local service delivery, preservation of heritage, culture and natural environments – all highly relevant issues in our communities.

Ratepayers Associations are important communication channels with local authorities, local councillors or other public organisations or pressure groups.  Their single presence and lack of political affiliations present an excellent opportunity to represent their members at the various levels of service delivery or new developments. The standing of these associations is confirmed by the inclusion of Ratepayers Associations as entities who must be included in the public participation process of environmental authorisations.

In other communities, Ratepayers Associations were seen to take authorities to Court. Although judgements might not have been in their favour on every occasion, the authorities took note and were forced to acknowledge the view of the local citizens.

Another excellent example is the latest working relationship between the Great Brak River Ratepayers Association and the District Municipality’s Air Quality Department. The Department requested ratepayers to serve as the channel for communication of complaints regarding air pollution concerns, in order to allow them to focus on the improvement of air quality in the area.  In return the Department will provide regular feedback on the progress with air quality related projects in our community.

The ratepayers associations can only make significant contribution to our neighbourhoods with active members and support from the local communities. These contributions range from complaints, reporting of a problem in the area, support of a project or much needed financial support.

The next time you want to complain about the small difference your local Ratepayers Association made to your area, or how unpleasant matters are in your community, ask yourself: how actively did you communicate with the association, how frequently did you interact with their social media pages and how much support you provided to their projects?

You have a voice. Continue to use it.