Decentralisation to Non-Metropolitan Local Government in South Africa

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University of Cape Town


University of Cape Town


International Association of Schools and Institutes Association (IASIA) Annual Conference

South African local government has been transformed fundamentally in the last 10 years from structures catering for the needs of a small segment of the population to a more democratic system. (Cameron, 2001). The policy of ‘developmental local government’ has been introduced in order to deal with the huge service backlog in primarily Black areas that the new government inherited from the apartheid regime (Parnell et al, 2002). Constitutional decentralisation of functions and powers to local government is a fundamental feature of this new system. A two-tier system of local government consisting of district and local municipalities was introduced in non-metropolitan areas to promote service-delivery. This paper is an analysis of how this new system of local government has been functioning since it was implemented after the December 2000 elections. This paper focuses on two specific themes. Firstly, it examines the relationship between district and local municipalities. While the state is committed to decentralising powers to local government it is not clear whether the district or the local should be the primary beneficiary of this policy. Secondly, it looks at the contested decision to include both secondary towns and rural areas in local municipalities. A two-part decentralisation framework was developed to guide this analysis. Firstly, there is an examination of the theoretical material on decentralisation. The paper argues that this literature does not deal adequately with situations where there are two-tiers of local government sharing functions and powers, When there is expectation amongst both tiers of local government that they would be the primary beneficiaries of a decentralisation policy, this often leads to conflict. Secondly, it also looks at the socio-geographic or settlements pattern approach to demarcation which attempts to correlate local government boundaries with their respective interdependent socio-economic areas. This approach influenced the Municipal Demarcation Board in South Africa into including urban and rural areas in the same jurisdiction. After the theoretical discussion the paper traces the macro-analysis of the state’s evolving policy towards non-metropolitan local government. This is followed by an examination of the perceptions of key local government stakeholders on the impact of this new local government policy, namely their ‘experience of transformation/consolidation from below’. A number of qualitative interviews (around 50) were conducted primarily with senior officials and politicians in district and local municipalities as part of a number of concurrent research projects between April and December 2002. In addition interviews were also conducted with private sector consultants, academics and programme experts. The information used in this paper is derived from some of these interviews.