Quiz your Councillor SThe local government elections have come and gone.

Your municipal or metro council has the serious task of managing service provision

How well they pay attention to the environmental justice issues that affect you and your community will depend, in part, on your active participation as a citizen.

What is the role of local authorities
when it comes to decisions that impact on your environment?

In South Africa, local government is often seen as the poor cousin of the more politically significant national platform. But the recent local government election has put a spotlight on the importance of local government. It is here where performance trumps ideology, and where voters may be more inclined to vote with their heads than their hearts.

Even so, most candidates are affiliated to national-based political parties and will want to, or be obliged to, implement their particular brand of political ideology at the local level. This may not be so easy in the increasing numbers of municipal councils that will be governed by coalitions. The potential instability of such coalitions makes it even more important for us – as citizens – to hold our local councillors to account for the decisions they make in our areas, with our money.

But what exactly is the role of local authorities
when it comes to decisions that impact on your environment?


Energy     Solid Waste       Climate Change      Water & Sanitation      Land Use


The constitution guarantees everybody the right to “…an environment that is not harmful to her health and to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations through reasonable legislative and other measures…”. This guarantee is entrenched within a range of national policies and laws, some of which fall to local authorities to implement. Local government can also enact and enforce by-laws.

The intersection between national legislation and local implementation depends on good co-operation between the different spheres of government. But for the ordinary citizen, it can be quite confusing. If, for example, your local authority is not properly treating sewage because it cannot raise the funds for the necessary upgrades, is that a local issue, a provincial issue, or a national issue? And what can you do about it?

A recent study, 15 Years Review of Local Government, published by the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) highlights some of the fractured coordination between the three tiers of government. Political parties such as the Democratic Alliance (DA) lament the fact that municipalities have an oversight function at local level but often very little operational control (Kevin Mileham, personal communication).

Large differences in capacity and financial stability between South Africa’s 226 municipalities are another cause for concern. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) blames these differences on an unequal division of revenue from national treasury, saying, “The manner in which municipalities are funded reproduce the structural and spatial inequalities that existed under apartheid. Affluent areas which are predominantly white continue to receive better services as opposed to underdeveloped areas which are predominantly black”. In fact the EFF’s local government manifesto would be completely unworkable without first changing the constitution which defines the powers given to the different spheres of government.

The DA wants a new local government funding model that is sustainable and does not overburden local ratepayers. The African National Congress (ANC) recognizes the problem, but argues that it can be solved by proper implementation of the current system of cooperative governance. However, even where there are strong and relatively progressive national policies in place – such as for the provision and use of water – the number of  service delivery protests that relate to issues and resources indicate just how broken the system is.

Now that elections are over,
it’s time for you to ensure that your councillor delivers!

To help you with this important job, we have covered a handful of topical environmental justice concerns, and tried to unpack some of the key issues at stake.

Energy     Solid Waste       Climate Change      Water & Sanitation      Land Use



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