History of the Local Government Elections in SA

South Africa will hold its sixth local government elections on November 1 this year. Coincidentally, that was the day the country held its first-ever local government election in 1995 – a year after the democratic government took over from the apartheid regime. 

On that day, the country held the local government elections nationally, except in two provinces – the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal – which held theirs in May and June 1996, respectively. The delay in the elections in the two provinces was a result of the boundary demarcation disputes.   

The African National Congress  (ANC), coming back from winning the 1994 general elections a year earlier, won 58.02% of the votes – accounting for more than 6 000 seats just over 11 000 seats across the country’s municipalities.  

The party was followed far behind by the FW De Klerk-led National Party (NP) at a meagre 18.02%, amassing 1 814 of the seats, with the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) winning 8.73% of the vote share. 

Voters’ roll

However, it was only in 1999 that the common voters’ roll was introduced, with the new local government system introduced in 2000. 

In 1998, the Municipal Demarcation Act (Act No. 27 of 1998) and Municipal Structures Act (Act No. 117 of 1998) were promulgated to give territorial and structural effect to the policy.

The former Act created a demarcation board to determine the boundaries of the new municipalities, 284 municipalities were eventually established. The latter provided for the structural, political and functional institutions for metropolitan, district and local municipalities, with the latter two tiers sharing jurisdiction over rural areas. 

The Department of Provincial and Local Government replaced the Department of Constitutional Development after the 2000 local elections.

Two main priorities occupied the term. The first was establishing the new municipalities and inducting the new councils. The second priority was completing the policy, legislative, and regulatory frameworks for municipal planning, service delivery, finances and administration. 

The legislative framework was completed with the passage of the Municipal Systems Act (Act No. 32 of 2000), regulating planning, service delivery, performance monitoring and public participation; the Municipal Finance Management Act (Act No. 56 of 2003), regulating financial management, accounting, supply-chain management, reporting and budgeting; the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act (Act No. 41 of 2003), providing for relations between traditional leadership and municipalities; and the Municipal Property Rates Act (Act No. 6 of 2004), regulating property evaluations and taxing. 

New National Party

Under President Thabo Mbeki, the ANC showed 1.2 percentage point growth winning 59.4 of the municipal votes. Three years prior, an attempt to rebrand National Party and distance itself from its apartheid past saw the party being called the New National Party (NNP) under Marthinus Schalkwyk. But the move didn’t prove to be of much success as the party performed badly in the 1999 general elections – a move that saw it form coalitions with the Democratic Party.

New alliances 

In 2000 Democratic Party under Tony Leon joined the NNP and the much smaller Federal Alliance to form a new party, the Democratic Alliance (DA).  The DA performed better than the NP five years earlier, winning 22.1% of the local government elections, followed in the third position by the IFP at 8.7%.  

A year later, the NNP broke away from the Democratic Alliance. Three years later they would begin to merge with the ANC – a move that would mark the end of the NNP in 2005. 

The same year, the Intergovernmental Relations Framework Act (IGRFA) was introduced to establish greater predictability in intergovernmental relations and to promote alignment of national, provincial and local plans and expenditures. The Act addressed three local government concerns; 

In January 2006, Cabinet adopted the Five-Year Strategic Agenda (5YSA) for the second term of local government (2006-11), following a comprehensive review of the first term of local government (2000-2005). The 5YSA would be replaced in 2009 by the Zuma government’s turnaround strategy.  

The ANC, under Mbeki, continued to show growth by 5.43 percentage points while Leon’s Democratic Alliance dropping by 5.88 percentage points, the IFP down by 1.61 percentage points while newcomers, Independent Democrats under Patricia De Lille came fourth at 2.14%.  

Turnaround Strategy

Under the Zuma administration, the Local Government Turnaround Strategy (TAS) emerged from Cogta’s assessment of the state of local government in 2009. 

The report found that while the local government had contributed to democratisation, the system as a whole was ‘showing signs of distress’. Indicators of this distress included ‘huge service delivery backlogs’, a breakdown in council communication with and accountability to citizens, political interference in administration, corruption, fraud, bad management, increasing violent service delivery protests, factionalism in parties, and depleted municipal capacity.  

These were symptoms of deeper systemic problems in local government and cooperative governance. In some cases, ‘accountable government and the rule of law had collapsed or were collapsing’ due to corruption, profiteering, and mismanagement.  

The report was the most forthright admission yet by the government that the local government was in a state of crisis. Following this report, the government adopted the Turnaround Strategy for Local Government (TAS) as an outcome in its five-year programme of action. All municipalities were expected to adopt turnaround strategies as part of their Integrated Development Planning (IDP).   

In 2009, it was revealed that 64 municipalities were found to be on a ‘distress list’ by the Cogta ministry when the department commissioned a report on the State of Local Government.  

Three key priorities for the TAS were improving access to basic services; deepening participatory democracy; and improving financial management and administrative capacity. 

Two years later, the country held its fourth local government elections, electing new councils for all municipalities in the country. 

Hare quota

Half of the seats in each municipality were elected on the first past the post system in single-member wards. The other half of the seats were allocated to restore proportionality as follows: 

  • The total number of seats was allocated using the largest remainder method by using a modified Hare quota. Proportional seats were allocated based on the difference.
  • Overhang seats were theoretically possible. These did not affect the quota but would reduce the number of remaining seats if any.
  • Independent candidates were allowed for in the ward seats, and the proportionality calculations effectively ignored votes for these candidates and were adjusted for seats allocated to them. 

A total of 13.66 million people turned out for the election (in 2011) representing a 57.64% turnout, making it the highest voter turnout ever since the first municipal election. 

The ANC showed even further growth under Jacob Zuma winning 61% of the votes, followed by the much-improved DA at 23.8% and the IFP at 3.6%.  There was a breakaway from IFP.

The National Freedom Party was formed by late former  IFP Chairperson Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi and some of the former members of the IFP. The party’s formation proved costly to the IFP, coming forth by winning 2.4% of the elections, bringing the IFP down from 7.53% in the previous local government elections.  

Congress of the People (COPE) which had contested their first-ever general elections two years earlier, also announced its arrival on the local government scene winning 2.1% of the elections.  

Maimane’s DA and Malema’s EFF 

Five years later, South Africa held arguably one of the most interesting local government elections in 2016. This was when the DA for the first time went to the polls led by Mmusi Maimane and a new kid of the block, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) made a remarkable landing on the local government scene.  

All these happened during the time the ANC was experiencing serious issues under the Jacob Zuma administration. 

Despite the ANC’s outright victory, it recorded its biggest loss of 8%, which was attributed to the formation of the EFF and the DA gaining some of the black middle-class votes.

Maimane’s DA grew by almost 3 percentage points, winning 29.9% of the elections, while Malema’s EFF won 8.19% of their first-ever local government elections, replacing the IFP as the third biggest party in the country.  

The decline in ANC support was most significant in urban areas, with the ANC losing its outright majority in four of the country’s eight metropolitan municipalities for the first time since 1994. The party retained Buffalo City, Mangaung and eThekwini, but with decreased majorities in Buffalo City and eThekwini.  

In the City of Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni, the ANC lost its majority but retained a plurality.  

The DA increased its majority in the City of Cape Town and achieved pluralities in Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay, its first in metropolitan municipalities outside of the Western Cape.  

Of the four hung metropolitan municipalities, the ANC retained Ekurhuleni through a coalition, while the DA gained control of Nelson Mandela Bay through a coalition, and formed minority governments in Johannesburg and Tshwane. 

However, since the last local government elections, a lot has changed. Following the DA’s dismal performance in the 2019 general elections, Mmusi Maimane resigned from the party and was replaced by former Chief Whip of the party in Parliament, John Steenhuisen, who will go into his first-ever elections as party leader on November 1. 

Maimane’s resignation also followed that of the DA’s Mayor of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba a few days earlier owing to internal party politics which some analysts have predicted could prove costly for the party comes November 1.  


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