n Journal of Public Administration - "Does one size-fit-all? The case for the asymmetrical devolution of local power in South Africa"

Volume 39, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0036-0767



There is considerable unevenness in the administrative capacities of both provincial and municipalities in South Africa. In its efforts to ensure the even transformation of South African society, the government has pursued a uniform 'one-size-fits-all' approach in its system of devolution at both provincial and local spheres. This problem is most acute at the local sphere; whilst some municipalities clearly have considerable administrative capacity, others are struggling to function. Thus, although the Constitution, 1996 makes provision for three categories of municipal government (metropolitan, district and local), these are determined largely by geographical area and demography rather than by any consideration of the administrative capacity of these structures. This, in large part, explains why so many municipalities are failing to deliver even basic public services despite the fact that they are increasingly charged with responsibility for local sphere development. While the national government's immediate response to these shortcomings has been to legislate greater powers of oversight and intervention, this article argues for a more asymmetrical devolution of power to the local sphere. Following the Spanish model of differentiated devolution, a case is made for the progressive assignment of powers to local authorities, according to demonstrated capacity. In this way, it is argued, the ideal of decentralised authority and of taking government to the people will be preserved for the long term.

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