What is local government?

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Local government is one of the three spheres of government together with the provincial and the national spheres. Local government consists of municipalities, which deliver many of the services people use in their daily lives. The Constitution provides for three categories of municipalities namely metropolitan, district and local municipalities. In South Africa there are 278 municipalities, comprising of 8 metropolitan, 44 district and 226 local municipalities.

The Constitution spells out the function of each sphere of government in Schedules 4 and 5. Local Government functions are listed in Parts B of each Schedule. All three spheres must coordinate their efforts. National and provincial government share the responsibility for functions listed in Schedule 4 for example for the police force and disaster management. Provincial government has the sole responsibility for functions listed in Schedule 5 for example ambulance services and provincial roads. The defence force and university education for example are the exclusive responsibility of national government.

Cooperative governance

All three spheres share competencies and responsibilities, for some functions for example “housing”. “Housing” is listed as a shared responsibility between national and provincial government. “Water and sanitation services” is listed as a local government function but is part of the implementation of housing. Electricity, refuse removal, parks and recreation and public places are some of the other services that local government has to deliver.

Municipalities govern through local councils which are elected during local government elections. Their work is carried out through by the municipal administration. The public has the right and the duty to participate in municipal decision making through ward committees, public participation meetings, submission of representations and proposals and direct contact with councilors.