|How local elections work
The electoral system for local government is a bit more
complicated. In the recent elections, the system of
proportional representation (PR) was used. The system
allowed for political parties to be represented in
parliament in or in the provincial legislature in
proportion to the percentage of the vote they receive.
At the local level, a mixed electoral system is used,
combining proportional representation and the
ĺ─˙first-past-the-postĺ─¨ (FPTP) system. Half the seats
in a municipal council are elected by proportional
representation. The percentages are calculated on the
total number of votes cast in a particular municipality
and seats are allocated accordingly.
The other half of the seats in council are filled by
representatives from wards. Each municipality is divided
into several wards. Here the (FPTP) electoral system is
used. This means individual candidates run for election
in a ward. The candidate who receives most votes
occupies its seat in council.
Metro voters have two votes in the local government
elections: one under the PR system and one for the ward
in which they live. In the same way, rural voters have
two votes for their district council. People in small
cities and towns have three votes: two for their local
council and a third for the district council under which
their municipality falls.
Who is in local government
Local government also has a legislative branch and an
executive branch. The elected council performs the
legislative functions, and is responsible for developing
policies and by-laws for the municipality. In some
councils, the mayor appoints a small committee to take
responsibility for the executive functions. This is
known as the mayoral committee. In other councils, an
executive committee is elected by the council itself. In
very small councils (with 10 members or less) there is
no separate executive structure.
There are two types of local government councillors.
They have exactly the same status, although their focus
is slightly different. Councillors elected under the PR
system represent their party in the council and promote
its policies for the whole municipality. Ward
councillors, although from a political party, are
expected to represent all residents in their ward.
They establish ward committees to help them stay in
touch with the needs of their specific area. Having an
identifiable ward councillor also makes it easier for
citizens to to make their interests known.
The mayor and councillors are elected to play a
political role, adopting policies and passing by-laws.
The municipality also employs officials and workers to
implement these policies and get the work done.
What local government does
According to the constitution, local government is
responsible for providing basic services to communities,
promoting economic development, and creating a safe,
healthy living environment.
It is also expected to encourage the participation of
citizens in the democratic life of their community.
The exact functions of local government differ slightly
from one municipality to another, depending on local
capacity and resources. The constitutional principle of
co-operative government applies strongly at local level.
This means that certain functions can be shared by local
councils, district councils and provincial government.
When different structures of government co- operate in
this way, it is easier to ensure no area is neglected.
Some of the functions of local government include
building regulations, cemeteries, childcare facilities,
electricity, firefighting, land use and zoning, parks
and recreation, pollution control, public advertising,
public places, public transport, refuse removal, roads
(municipal), street lighting, town planning, trading
regulations and licences (including street, food and
liquor trade), traffic control and parking and water and
sanitation ĺ─ý among others.
Planning for development
Citizens are often unaware of how much planning goes
into creating and expanding a town. Town planning is one
of the most important functions of local government.
In recent years, a strong emphasis has been placed on
integrating (or co-ordinating) the development plans for
a particular area.
Under apartheid, town planning focused on segregation,
the opposite approach. Now, as municipalities transform
themselves to provide equitable services, there is a
need for an overall, co-ordinated vision of what each
town, city and rural area can become.
Integrated development planning (IDP) is a strategy for
getting all municipal departments to plan together. In
this way, development priorities can be agreed upon by
everybody, and coherent, long-term plans can be put in
place. IDP forces departments to go beyond their
Every municipality in SA now has its own integrated
development plan for at least the next five years.
We will be going to the polls again next year. If you
will be turning 18 in the coming year, or if you have
not yet registered to vote, start preparing now to make
sure you can participate in the next elections. Apply
for your ID as soon as possible.You can then register as
a voter at the office of your municipal electoral
How young people can get involved
While the intention of involving citizens in a
consultative manner is undoubtedly good, the truth is
many citizens remain untouched by consultative
processes. Young people often end up most marginalised.
All this demonstrates that democracy cannot depend on
government alone. Government officials have serious work
to do, and consulting citizens often seems less urgent
than attending to tough technical and financial
challenges. Citizens have to take responsibility
themselves for developing a strong, productive
relationship with local government. They cannot sit and
wait like passive customers for government to come to
them. Often citizens complain that government doesnĺ─˘t
listen to them, but they need to develop effective ways
of ensuring that their voices are heard.
Government will listen if citizens organise themselves
to speak with one voice, and do so loudly. In this way,
citizens become joint problem solvers and co-creators of
Young people have a unique role to play in ensuring
their interests are taken seriously. Young people need
to speak up. They are citizens too. They have energy,
talents and fresh ideas that can make a real difference
in the community.
Your contribution to South Africa
1. Using large sheets of paper (flipchart or brown paper
work best), get learners to form groups and draw a map
of their area or town. They shouldnĺ─˘t worry about
getting the proportions exactly right. Rather encourage
them to focus on identifying the key facilities,
landmarks and public spaces.
This can then be used as a tool for identifying the
development needs of a particular area.
2. Flowing out of the map drawing exercise, ask learners
to write a letter to their ward councillor presenting a
proposal for a facility or service that is needed in
3. Take your class on a field trip to your local
municipality. Arrange for some councillors or officials
to give a brief presentation on their work. Get one of
the administrators to explain the different reasons why
citizens might visit their municipal offices.
4. Have a classroom debate on the topic, ĺ─˙Local
is the most important sphere of governmentĺ─¨. An
topic could be, ĺ─˙Local democracy depends on citizens,
not on local governmentĺ─¨.
5. As an essay-writing exercise, invite learners to
respond to the question, ĺ─˙What makes you proud to be a
citizen of the village/town/city where you live?ĺ─¨