[THOUGHT LEADER] Municipalities and their role in local communities | Infrastructure news

Given the history of our country, it is no surprise that the constitution determines developmental duties for municipalities by requiring them to structure and manage their administration, budgeting and planning processes to give priority to the basic needs of their communities and promote the social and economic development of the community

*By Odwa Benxa CA(SA), Project Director: Public Sector at SAICA

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa 1996 recognises national, provincial and local government as three spheres of government that are distinctive, interdependent and interrelated.

The constitution recognises the local sphere of government as consisting of municipalities that must be established for the whole territory of the Republic.

Municipalities are then under the executive and legislative authority of a municipal council, which is elected for a five-year term. Further, municipalities have the right to govern, on their own initiative, the local government affairs of their communities without impediment or compromise by national and provincial government. However, in terms of section 139 of the constitution, the provincial executive may intervene when a municipality cannot or does not fulfil an executive obligation in terms of the constitution or legislation.

Objectives of municipalities

Central to municipalities’ existence is ensuring the needs of local communities are addressed. This includes the provision of basic services such as water, sanitation and refuse removal to communities. The constitution lists the objectives of municipalities as follows:

  • To provide a democratic and accountable government for local communities
  • To ensure the provision of services to communities in a sustainable manner
  • To promote social and economic development
  • To promote a safe and healthy environment, and
To encourage the involvement of communities and community organisations in matters of local government

Municipal councils, municipal administration and local communities

The municipal council has the executive and legislative authority in relation to the municipality. In exercising this authority, the municipal council passes by-laws, approves the municipal budget, imposes rates and other taxes, levies and duties and makes decisions regarding the raising of loans by the municipality. Key to the functions of the municipality is community involvement. Therefore, municipal council meetings are conducted in an open manner and are open to the public.

There is an important relationship between municipal councils, the members of the administration (that is, members of management) and the local community. This relationship is expressed in the Local Government: Municipal Systems Act 2000, which indicates the rights and duties of the municipal council, the administration and the local community.

The duties of the municipal council are, among others, to:

  • To provide, without favour or prejudice, democratic and accountable government
  • To encourage the involvement of the local community
  • To strive to ensure that municipal services are provided to the local community in a financially and environmentally sustainable manner
  • To consult the local community about the level, quality, range and impact of municipal services provided by the municipality, and
  • To promote and undertake development in the municipality
The duties of the local community, on the other hand, are, among others:

  • To promptly pay the service fees, property rates and other taxes, levies and duties imposed by the municipality
  • To allow municipal officials reasonable access to their property for the performance of municipal functions, and
  • To comply with the by-laws of the municipality
However, in the same light, the local community has rights in relation to the municipality which include the right:

  • To contribute to the decision-making process of the municipality
  • To submit written or oral recommendations, representations and complaints to the municipal council
  • To be informed of decisions of the municipal council affecting their rights, property and reasonable expectations
  • To regular disclosure of the state of affairs of the municipality, including its finances, and
  • To have access to the municipal services which the municipality provides
Members of the municipal administration are required to:

  • To be responsive to the needs of the local community;
  • To facilitate a culture of public service and accountability amongst staff;
  • To take measures to prevent corruption;
  • To establish clear relationships, and facilitate cooperation and communication between the administration and the local community;
  • To inform the local community about how the municipality is managed, the costs involved and the persons in charge.
Community involvement

One way of ensuring community involvement in the affairs of a municipality is through the Integrated Development Plan (IDP) development process. Municipal councils are required to adopt a single, inclusive and strategic plan for the development of the municipality, which is referred to as an IDP.

The municipality will adopt a process for drafting the IDP and subsequently inform the community about the adopted process. This will allow the community to prepare inputs into the IDP and participate in discussions around the IDP prior to its adoption by the municipal council. Following the adoption of the IDP, the municipality will notify the community and make its copies available for public inspection.

Municipalities are required to establish a performance management system that aligns with the priorities, objectives, indicators and targets contained in the IPD. This process allows for municipalities to enhance the accountability of the municipal council and the administration to the local communities by ensuring that the municipality can measure its performance against the set targets determined after the inputs from the community and the money spent in achieving those targets.

Further, a municipality must prepare an annual report for each financial year to provide a report on its performance against the budget of the municipality. The annual report further includes the financial statements for the financial year and is subject to audit by the Auditor-General of South Africa. It further serves as a tool to promote accountability to the local community for the decisions made by the municipality throughout the year.


There is a demonstrable relationship between the municipal council, the administration and the local community, which is recognised by law. Each stakeholder has determined rights and responsibilities allowed by law.

Local communities are therefore encouraged to take advantage of the processes available to ensure their involvement in the service delivery initiatives of their municipalities and ensure that their voices are heard.

It is through active community involvement that fit-for-purpose performance indicators and targets that directly impact local community members can be developed by municipalities and allow for greater accountability by municipal councils and members of the administration.

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