Chapter three of South Africa’s 1996 Constitution begins “…in the Republic, government is constituted as national, provincial and local spheres of government which are distinctive, interdependent and interrelated.” This sentence, which underpins the nation’s federalist system of authority, has had a profound impact on the development and implementation of government policies over the past two decades. Power in South Africa is divided among federal, provincial and local authorities. Each level of government consists of individual executive and legislative entities, which are composed of members drawn from the local or provincial population. At the national level, the upper house of Parliament, which is known as the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), is made up of 10 representatives from each of the nine provinces, for example. This decentralised configuration is central to the nation’s system of cooperative governance.

Provincial Power

Each of South Africa’s nine provincial legislatures are made up of between 30 and 80 members, depending on the size of the province. Members of the Provincial Legislature serve five-year terms. Since this system was first established in 1994, provincial elections have taken place at the same time as federal parliamentary elections, though this is not mandated under the constitution.

In general, the African National Congress (ANC) has dominated provincial elections. In the most recent round, which took place in May 2014, ANC candidates won a majority position in eight of the nation’s nine provinces, winning 52 of 80 the available seats in KwaZulu-Natal, 40 of 73 seats in Gauteng, 24 of 30 seats in Mpumalanga, 39 of 49 seats in Limpopo and 45 of 63 seats in the Eastern Cape, for example. The only provincial legislature that was not won by the ANC in 2014 was the Western Cape, where Democratic Alliance (DA) candidates control 26 of 42 available seats. Cape Town, which is home to two-thirds of the population of the Western Cape, has historically been a DA stronghold, and is home to the opposition party’s headquarters.

Provincial governments have sole responsibility for planning, road upkeep and development, traffic management, and a variety of other components of local government. Additionally, the provincial legislatures have joint authority – alongside federal entities – over a wide range of sectors and topics, including agriculture, primary and secondary education, environmental affairs, health services, conservation, policing, provincial public media, public transit, regional planning and development, tourism, trade and industrial promotion, urban and rural development, vehicle licensing and welfare services, among others. In general, provincial authorities have a mandate to manage these areas to the best of their abilities, with the federal government providing assistance where needed.

Local Authorities

In addition to the provinces, each of the 278 municipalities have certain powers under the constitution. These include monitoring local implementation and performance of national and provincial development plans, preparing budgets at the local level and disseminating information about new policies and other issues to local populations, among others. The country is home to three types of municipalities, including metropolitan municipalities, district municipalities and local municipalities. The eight metropolitan municipalities roughly correspond to South Africa’s major cities. The remaining district and local municipalities cover largely rural areas. Each municipality operates under either a mayoral system of government, where authority is held by an elected mayor, or else under a collective system, where a group of elected officials share authority.

South Africa’s municipal and provincial governments work closely with the federal Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, which has a mandate to develop, implement and monitor national policies and legislation that benefit local authorities. The department oversees a variety of programmes in the areas of economic development, infrastructure financing and disaster management, among others.