Democratic decentralisation, citizen engagement and service delivery in South Africa: A critique of legislative and policy considerations


  • Purshottama S Reddy University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • Jayanathan Govender Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University



Democratic decentralisation


Negotiations to restructure and transform local government in South Africa commenced in 1993. Key roleplayers and stakeholders in local government were instrumental in adopting a negotiated local government model comprising three distinct phases during the constitutional development process. The Local Government Transition Act, 1993 (Act 209 of 1993) facilitated the process for the introduction of transitional local and metropolitan councils which constituted the first phase. Local government elections were held for the first time in November 1995 and May/June 1996 in seven provinces (and thereafter Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal) constituted the second phase. Three fundamental legislative enactments, i.e. Local Government: Municipal Demarcation Act, 1998 (Act 27 of 1998); Local Government Municipal Structures Act, 1998 (Act 117 of 1998) and the Local Government: Municipal Systems Act, 2000 (Act 32 of 2000), were critical to the final phase. Elections held in December 2000 marked the end of the transition period resulting in a reduction of municipalities from 843 to 283. There were two successful local government elections held thereafter on 26 March 2006 and more recently on 18 May 2011. Regular elections and the plethora of legislation introduced to consolidate the new dispensation have resulted in local democracy and decentralisation being deeply rooted in the local governance system. The latter is an integral component of the local governance policy framework as the country has a diverse population of almost 50 million people. It is believed that a democratic and decentralised governance system will promote local development, address poverty reduction, facilitate civic engagement and ensure national integration. Local democracy, introduced seventeen years ago following the ushering in of the developmental state in 1994, has since been tried and tested. Despite 'world class' legislation and a 'best practice' local governance system, which has as its basis people centred development, engagement and decentralisation, several governance challenges has emerged. This includes inter alia, unfunded mandates; rampant corruption and nepotism; violent service delivery protests; capacity constraints; crime, lack of communication, transparency and accountability; limited civic engagement and a significant number of municipalities that are not financially viable. These issues will have to be addressed if Chapter 7 of the Constitution has to become more meaningful to the majority of the populace in terms of discharging its developmental mandate.




How to Cite

Reddy, Purshottama S, and Jayanathan Govender. 2018. “Democratic Decentralisation, Citizen Engagement and Service Delivery in South Africa: A Critique of Legislative and Policy Considerations”. Africanus: Journal of Development Studies 43 (1):78-95.