n Journal of Public Administration - Local government : quo vadis?

Volume 37, Issue 4
  • ISSN : 0036-0767



The 1996 South African Constitution introduced an innovative intergovernmental relations system. The hierarchical apartheid intergovernmental relations system that had persisted through the interim constitutional phase was replaced by a non-hierarchical model. Reference was no longer made to levels but rather to spheres of government. The 1996 Constitution vested local government with significant functions and powers, as well as considerable functional autonomy, and circumscribed the ability of both central and provincial government to intervene at local level.

Despite this constitutional protection of local government, there are different views of decentralisation within the state. Some central government actors are committed to decentralising power to local government while others favour more centralised forms of governance. These different views are reflected in this article. It will be shown how a Department of Finance-inspired constitutional amendment in 2001 would have given central government the power to make executive and legislative policy at local sphere. This had the potential to reduce local government financial powers substantively. After concerted opposition this bill was withdrawn. A truncated version of the amendment bill was introduced in 2002, but it still has the potential to undermine local government autonomy.

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