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The Legal Status of Local Government in South Africa under the New Constitutional Dispensation

Mbuzeni Mathenjwa


The history of local government in South Africa dates back to a time during the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910. With regard to the status of local government, the Union of South Africa Act placed local government under the jurisdiction of the provinces. The status of local government was not changed by the formation of the Republic of South Africa in 1961 because local government was placed under the further jurisdiction of the provinces. Local government was enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa arguably for the first time in 1993. Under the interim Constitution local government was rendered autonomous and empowered to regulate its affairs. Local government was further enshrined in the final Constitution of 1996, which commenced on 4 February 1997. The Constitution refers to local government together with the national and provincial governments as spheres of government which are distinctive, interdependent and interrelated. This article discusses the autonomy of local government under the 1996 Constitution. This it does by analysing case law on the evolution of the status of local government. The discussion on the powers and functions of local government explains the scheme by which government powers are allocated, where the 1996 Constitution distributes powers to the different spheres of government. Finally, a conclusion is drawn on the legal status of local government within the new constitutional dispensation.


local government; provincial government; jurisdiction of provinces; constitution; autonomy; subsidiarity

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