Local Government

What is local government?

Thanks to Civics Academy for the videos and information.

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.

What are Municipalities and How are they Structured?

Municipalities are geographical areas which the Municipal Demarcation Board defines. The provincial Minister of Local Government establishes municipalities which are governed through Municipal councils.

There are 3 categories of municipalities in South Africa, namely metropolitan, district, and local. Metropolitan municipalities or metros exist in the 8 biggest cities. Areas that fall outside the metros are divided into local municipalities. District municipalities are made up of a number of local municipalities that fall into one district. Apart from district municipalities, all municipalities are divided into wards.

How are Municipalities Governed?

Municipal councilors are elected every five years during local government elections. Most voters vote once for a political party on the basis of proportional representation and once for an individual in their ward. In local and metropolitan councils, party representatives make up 50% of the councillors – the other 50% is made up of directly elected ward councillors. In local municipalities each voter also votes for a party to represent them on the district council. 40% of district council seats are accorded to parties on the basis of the proportional representation ballot. 60% of seats are allocated to the local councils in that district area.

Municipal councils vote for a speaker, who applies the rules of order. Municipal councils also elect a mayor and a deputy mayor who appoints council members to form the mayoral committee. Some decisions of the council must be made by majority which others are made by the Mayoral Committee. The municipal council can also delegate matters to the Mayoral Committee to speed up decisions. The Mayor can also make certain decisions on his or her own. The public has a right to participate in the decisions.

What Are Municipal Services?

The Constitution sets out the functions of each sphere of government in Schedules 5 and 6. Part B of these Schedules spells out the services that local government must provide including, for example, electricity, water and sanitation services and roads. Some functions are “shared” meaning that the different spheres of government must cooperate in order to deliver them.

Municipalities vary greatly meaning that their ability to generate income and the costs they encounter also differs. All municipalities have to generate their income from grants, loans and user charges.

How are Municipal Services Funded?

Municipalities receive grants from the taxes that the national government collects. There are two types of grants, namely the municipality’s Equitable Share Grant and the Municipal Infrastructure Grant. The Equitable Share grant is used to help pay for basic services for people whose income is below a certain threshold. The Municipal Infrastructure Grant helps to pay for the construction costs of basic infrastructure services. Municipalities often have to loan money from a back which they have to repay with interest from the income received from taxes and charges. Municipalities, other than District Municipalities, also impose taxes on properties such as houses and businesses based on their values allowing them to subsidise the costs of services. Municipalities also collect fees for the usage of services such as electricity, refuse collection and water and sanitation services.

The resources are spent for the planning, construction, running and maintenance of the services provided. If users who do not qualify for free services don’t pay for them, municipalities don’t have the resources to continue providing the services.

What can I expect from My Municipality?

Section 152 of the Constitution sets out the five focus areas of Municipalities:

    1. Provide democratic and accountable government.
    2. Provide services in a sustainable manner.
    3. Promote social and economic development.
    4. Promote a safe and healthy environment.
    5. Encourage the involvement of communities.

According to the Municipal Systems Act, a basic service is one that ensures an acceptable and reasonable quality of life with regards to water, sewage, refuse removal, roads and stormwater control, electricity, housing and firefighting.

The limitations of delivery in municipalities

Service delivery is limited when national or provincial government delegate their responsibilities to the local spheres through “unfunded mandates”. Other limits include a shortage of income due to service user’s non-payment, government grants being too little and poor financial management. Other factors include a lack of suitable land, poor cooperation within spheres of government or being in a remote location. Practical circumstances also can limit service delivery.