Democratising the system of local government in South Africa required a
total transformation of all the municipalities and the services they provide.
Local government as government closest to the people demanded
particular attention as the services they are expected to provide in a transformed
system affect the daily lives of all inhabitants of the state. During the apartheid
regime South Africa consisted of racially based local authorities responsible for
a limited number of municipal services. The major transformation commenced
in 1998 with the establishment of comprehensive municipalities with extensive
functions covering the total geographic area. The aim of this article is to briefly
trace the stages in the development of the new system of local government and
administration. Particular attention will be paid to the role of the elected municipal
council and its substructures and the administrative structure with a municipal
manager as the chief executive officer. The political administrative interface will
be addressed to explain the implications of democracy on the operations of
municipalities. The challenges and prospects of the current system will also receive
attention and to explain the lessons learned after 10 years.