Address by President Nelson Mandela at the National Summit for Organised Local Government

22 November 1996

Mayor of the Durban Transitional Metropolitan Council;
Minister Ahwoi of Ghana;
Representatives of Foreign Governments;
Minister for Provincial Affairs and Constitutional Development;
Cabinet Ministers;
Members of Provincial Executives and Legislatures;
Representatives of Local Government
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

When the polling booths closed here in Durban and the rest of KwaZulu-Natal on 26 June this year, the people of South Africa had completed the task they began in April 1994.

Determined to govern themselves, they have seized every opportunity to vote for freedom and democracy. Time and again they confounded the sceptics who prophesied violence, confusion and apathy. And so it was that this province, plagued for years by political violence and tension, held local elections that were exemplary in their peaceful character.

Such is the thirst of South Africans for democracy. Such is the responsibility on the shoulders of you who are gathered here today.

You have the task of doing whatever is necessary to ensure that our new local government system serves the needs of our communities. You have the responsibility to make their voice heard and to provide an effective instrument for them to improve their lives.

For all these reasons it is a great joy to welcome so many distinguished visitors from other countries - countries which have a richer experience of democracy than South Africa has yet to enjoy. We welcome you as o eality of the rights which we achieved We wish you a pleasant stay in our country.

Ladies and gentlemen;

Our remarkable progress since we enacted the Local Government Transition Act in February 1994 has taken us through far-reaching restructuring.

The transitional councils laid the ground for legitimate local authorities, and prepared the way for South Africa's first ever non-racial, democratic local government elections.

These elections were held under difficult circumstances with very tight time-frames. We owe much to the efforts of the Elections Task Group which achieved the formidable task of managing, co-ordinating and monitoring 811 separate elections in the nine provinces.

Our new Constitution reflects the importance of local democracy to South Africans. It gives prominent recognition to local government, and entrenches the protection and safeguards needed to ensure that it develops as a distinct sphere of government in its own right.

Ladies and Gentlemen;

This Summit will be remembered as a milestone in the history of organised local government.

The staggering of elections prevented organised local government from structuring itself formally at an earlier stage. However, the establishment of the South African Local Government Association begins a new era. Congratulations on this achievement!

You have a critical role to play in representing the interests of local government within the unfolding system of intergovernmental relations.

Amongst other things you will designate 10 people to represent the different categories of municipalities in the new National Council of Provinces. Although unable to vote, they will be able to make a meaningful contribution in initiating and preparing legislation affecting local government. Thus they will have the chance, rarely afforded to local government anywhere in the world, to participate in the legislative process at national level.

Much has been done to enhance co-operation between the three spheres of government. For this we should thank the Portfolio Committee on Constitutional Affairs, the InterGovernmental Forum, MINMEC and organised local government.

But there is still much more to be done in this regard. Interaction and co-operation on policy issues and co-ordination of activities must become second nature. This does not however mean that government must be paralysed by the need to consult. As elected representatives we have a duty to take decisions. Some decisions may be popular but others not so popular. The fact remains that progress and development are dependent on well-thought out decisions.

Such decisions must be properly communicated to the electorate. My experience is that many important decisions take too much time to reach grassroots level. Regular meetings between councillors and their constituencies will help make transparency a key aspect of the daily functioning of local government. The essence of Masakhane is to build a good relationship between the people and government, particularly at the local level.

Many of you have now been in office for just over a year. It is a good time to assess your own performance. Every councillor needs to ask: "Have I made a difference to the quality of life of the people? How successful have we been over the past year in delivering essential services to residents, such as sanitation, roads, refuse removal, health services, electricity? Have we been able to deliver water and to mend the leaking pipes and the broken meters? Have we been able to bring services to the informal settlements and the rural areas?"

Have we deserved the trust that communities put in us?

Government's contribution to helping municipalities deliver services includes the Municipal Infrastructure Programme. Over the past two years R1,3 bn has been allocated to municipalities to mend and upgrade existing services and create new infrastructure. A total of 326 projects have been implemented on the ground. Once they are completed 3,2 million people will have benefited.

More has been allocated for next year, but only municipalities can turn government funding into concrete infrastructure - it is they who must drive the programme. I call on all councillors and officials here today to commit yourselves to work together with provincial and national government to make this important programme a success.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I will not be doing my duty if I do not convey a particular concern to you.

The viability and affordability of the existing interim local government system is in question. Currently there are 842 municipalities in existence of which 811 are directly elected. We would have had more reason to celebrate today if we could confirm that all of them are viable and affordable.

As we work towards a White Paper for local government, the overall number of councils and councillors needed to serve the South African communities have to be carefully examined. You will also need to look at how you can build the capacity of all local government structures, particularly in the rural areas. This is a big challenge, but I am convinced that you will find solutions.


This summit is a milestone in local government. It is a new beginning to co-operative governance. It is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the past three years, and to examine our weaknesses. It is a people's summit, in that you represent the needs and aspirations of all the local communities of our country.

You therefore have a great responsibility to plan properly for the future. I wish you every success in your deliberations.

May local democracy gain strength from your collective experiences.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation