Local Government in South Africa: Responses to urban-rural challenges

The Dullah Omar Institute (DOI) is one of 18 international partners of the LoGov project titled ‘Local Government and the Changing Urban-Rural Interplay’. The project seeks to establish an international and intersectoral training and research network to identify, and evaluate best-fit practices for local governments in order to address the changing urban-rural interplay and manage its impacts. It is funded by the European Commission as part of the EU-Rise Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA).

As part of this project, the DOI, with the support of the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), produced a Country Report on local government in South Africa. The report provides an overview of the local government system and evaluates selected local government practices in South Africa. The Report is organised along thematic areas known in the context of the LoGov as work packages (WPs).

Each WP has several practice notes which provide an introduction and description of the local government practice, highlight the legal, social and political context, and evaluate the implementation of the practice. A desktop analysis provided the foundation for the development of these notes. This analysis was complemented by information gathered through interviews and workshops with seasoned practitioners and academic experts.  Below is a summary of what each work package (WP) examines.

WP1: Local Responsibilities and Public Services in South Africa
WP1 deals with various aspects of constitutionally mandated and assigned local government functions. The first practice note under WP1 evaluates the role of local government in service delivery, beyond basic services, by focusing on the ‘A re yeng’ bus rapid transit (BRT) programme implemented in the City of Tshwane.  It is noted that ‘A re yeng’ does not aim to link urban and rural centres per se, but rather links rich and poor communities and therefore links people with jobs, boosting productivity. However, the failure to coordinate with other transport systems adversely affects the efficiency of the envisaged integrated transport system.

The second practice note under WP1 deals with the expansion of local government’s mandate with a particular focus on Ethekwini Metro. The Covid-19 pandemic and the hard ‘lockdown’ negatively affected jobs, and as a result, affected municipal revenue as users were no longer able to pay their property rates and user fees (water and electricity) on time. At the same time, the Minister of Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) Directives to local governments imposed expanded and unfunded mandates further compromising the already stretched municipal coffers. This practice note evaluates how eThekwini responded to the first 90 days of the pandemic.

The third practice notes examine the accreditation of municipalities to administer housing programmes. Housing is a concurrent national and provincial competence (Schedule 5A, Constitution), yet municipalities, especially cities, are increasingly being called upon to address housing related challenges. In practice, there are numerous difficulties associated with assignment of the housing function to local government, including tensions arising due to provinces’ desire to protect their shrinking policy space. This practice note examines the accreditation and assignment framework for human settlements which tends to be more common in urban areas than rural areas due to the urban sprawl.

The last practice note under WP 1 assesses municipal procurement during COVID-19. The Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) Circular No. 102 requires municipalities and municipal entities to put in place additional procurement and expenditure measures to monitor Covid-19 related spending.  Despite these and other legislative measures, there is a continued lack of transparency and accountability in many urban and rural municipalities.

WP2: Local financial arrangements in South Africa
Financial arrangements are crucial to local government fulfilling its mandate including the delivery of basic services. The first practice note under WP2 examines the amalgamation of municipalities in 2016 aimed at enhancing financial viability. The second practice note gives attention to the Metro Open Budget Survey (Metro OBS), a tool of the International Budget Partnership South Africa and DOI, which measures transparency, participation and oversight in selected metropolitan cities in South Africa.  The last practice note under WP2 examines attempts at formalizing development charges in South African municipalities. This practice note recognised that municipalities have been levying development charges in the past, and analyses the Mogalakwena Local Municipality and City of Johannesburg draft policies on development charges in relation to the Municipal Fiscal Powers and Functions Amendment Bill which seeks to formalize development charges.

WP3: The structure of local government in South Africa
WP3 is dedicated to the structure of local government in South Africa. The first practice note examines how amalgamations are planned and implemented focusing on the important role of the Municipal Demarcation Board, and some contestations to amalgamations in the past. The second practice note assesses the District Coordinated Development Model which seeks to integrate planning and implementation in the two-tiered local government system in which districts and local municipalities share legislative and executive authority.  The last practice note explores the interconnectedness of amalgamation and people’s participation.

WP4: Intergovernmental relations of local Governments in South Africa
WP4 deals with intergovernmental relations in South Africa. The first practice note examines intergovernmental mechanisms for cooperation and coordination among the three spheres of government for the procurement of bulk water by municipalities.  The second practice note evaluates the intergovernmental mechanisms and forums for the annual division of revenue among and within spheres of government. The last practice note under WP4 examines integrated development planning as an important tool and mechanism for coordination among the three spheres of government.  It is noted that there are at times competing interests among the spheres of government which can negatively affect the successful implementation of Integrated Development Plans.

WP5: People’s participation in local decision-making in South Africa
WP5 focuses on public participation in local decision-making processes and structures.  The first practice note examines the implementation of participatory budgeting in South Africa’s municipalities. It was found that participation in uninvited spaces (protests) tends to be common and is often perceived by communities as being more effective than participation in invited spaces (such as townhall meetings). The second practice note analyses the effects of COVID-19 and the lockdown imposed to manage the pandemic on public participation. It was found that public participation was negatively affected, as there were limited spaces for public engagement. The last practice note evaluates the transparency of local government procurement during the Covid-19 pandemic, looking at both urban and rural dynamics.

The South Africa Country Report is the result of the collective effort of the following researchers: Michelle Maziwisa, Jaap de Visser, Tinashe Chigwata, Thabile Chonco, Henry Gichana, Lungelwa Kaywood, Melissa Ziswa and Yonatan Fessha.  The Report provides a good entry point for those that are interested in understanding the system of local government in South Africa and how it works in practice. You can view or download the Report here. You can also view or download country reports from each of the partner institutes from the LoGov website: https://www.logov-rise.eu/


by Michelle R. Maziwisa, Postdoctoral Fellow

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