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                                 Authored by William Ramphele

                   Department of Provincial and Local Government


This discussion paper explores capacity building of local government from the
concept of developmental local government as entrenched in the Constitution
and the White Paper of local government, 1998. The discussion paper
commences by putting into perspective, the vision for developmental local
government. It is in the interest of national government and provinces that
local government is capacitated and transformed to play this developmental
role. The paper further begins to create a common understanding and
consensus in what “capacity” building is and continues by drawing salient
capacity building challenges facing institutions of local government. Further to
that, the paper captures the current capacity building responses and a
comprehensive appraisal of such approaches. The paper concludes with
possible strategies and intervention approaches for key role players to take
challenge and opportunity of.


Since the early 1990‟s, South African government has embarked on a process
of restructuring and realigning local government. The national goal is to create
local government structures that are accessible, efficient, representative,
accountable and sustainable. The transformation of local government is
traced back from the framework set out in the local Government transition Act
of 1993, which sketched 3 phase long term plan for transformation. The pre-
interim phases ran from 1993 to 1995, and involved local level negotiations to
form pre-interim councils to amalgamate and work out new boundaries.

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The interim phase began in 1995, with transitional local authorities governing.
The arrangement ended with the local government elections in December
2000. By then, the 840 local authorities were restructured to form 284
municipalities (6 Metropolitan councils-Category A, 232 local councils -
Category B, and 47 District municipalities-Category C). These new
boundaries presented further challenges and required reorganising of service
networks, integrating administration, and human resources, and different
planning, financial and developmental systems.

The final phase began from the December 2000 elections, which saw
municipalities elections taking place within the new boundaries and in terms of
municipal structures Act of 1998. This final phase has been divided into three
phases: establishment/stabilisation, consolidation, and sustainability. It has
been envisaged that all new municipalities will be fully “established and
stabilised” by 2003. By the end of 2005, the new system will be
“consolidated”. In the remaining 5 years until 2010, it has been envisaged that
the municipalities will be “sustainable”.

The white paper on local government entrenches developmental local
government as the one, which is committed to working with citizens and
groups within the community to find sustainable ways to meet their social
economic and material needs and improve the quality of their lives. The
constitution further commits government to take reasonable measures, within
its available resources, to ensure that local government is capacitated to
ensure that all South Africans have access to adequate housing, health care,
education, water and social security.

The reality is that local government is best placed to implement development.
The end of 2005 will be the ten-year anniversary of democratic local
government in South Africa. Since 1995, during the pre-interim phase
significant progress has been made in transforming the system of local
government. However, there is a growing realisation that the existing lack of
capacities in local government will persist post each phase. A practical
indication is that local councils are supposed in the consolidation phase,

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2003-2005, but some councils are still trapped in the incomplete
establishment issues. These discredit the transformation trajectory and
influence the lack of ability to deliver and function developmentally.

The situation compels government and role key players including the South
African Local Government Association (SALGA), to intensify their attempts in
building capacity of local government. While the issue of building municipal
capacity is not a new one, programmatic responses and assistance have
generally been fragmented, and have rarely had an impact on building the in-
house capacity.

The challenge is to create a programme of support that targets the weakest
structures across the whole local government sector. It is critically important
that donor and grant programme be aligned with the increasing emphasis on
supporting local government. During the latter transition phase, there has
been an increase emphasis by donor programs on “pilot projects” with
intentions of roll out, but often little roll out. Key to consider in municipal
capacity building is that the new system of local government augmented by
the Municipal systems Act of 2000,puts emphasis to make municipalities more
financially viable and better able to perform their powers and functions.

Vision for developmental local government

The constitution of South Africa, Act 108 of 1996, provides a vital role for
national and provincial government to play in the capacity building and
support of the local government sphere. The constitution states in s154 (1)
that both national and provincial government must, by legislature and other
measures support and strengthen the capacity of municipalities to manage
their own affairs, exercise their power and perform their functions. This means
that national government must establish an overall framework for municipal
capacity building and support. By national the interpretation should not be
narrowly confined within the Department of Provincial and Local Government
as a custodian of local government, but be interpreted within the context of
national departments – health, Water Affairs, Forestry, Environmental Affairs

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& Tourism for example. Clearly local government is increasingly demanding to
be considered as a point of integration and co-ordination for the programmes
of other spheres of government.

In turn, municipalities are required to work with provincial and national
government in their respective areas of jurisdiction, and enhance the
effectiveness of national and provincial programmes.

The Constitution gives other spheres of government a broad vision for fully
capacitated municipalities. In terms of the constitution, a fully capacitated
municipality is one that is able to govern its affairs on its own initiative by
demonstrating financial and administrative capacity to:

        a. Provide          democratic          and      accountable        government    for   local
        b. Ensure the provision of services to communities in a sustainable
        c. Promote social and economic development;
        d. Promote a healthy and safe environment, and
        e. Encourage            the     involvement          of       communities   and   community
             organisations in the matters of local government.

The white paper of local government further describe developmental local
government within into related characteristics:

                  1. Maximising social development and economic growth, - in
                       particular meeting the basic needs of the poor and on the
                       growth of local economy.
                  2. Integrating and co-ordinating – providing a vision and
                       leadership that all efforts by role players are targeted for
                       common goals.
                  3. Democratising development – promoting involvement of

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                  4. Leading and learning – creating conditions for local solutions
                       to development.

The developmental local government requires that municipalities be
administratively and financially capacitated to fulfil their role. Therefore,
capacity building becomes a core and fundamental process that must be
continued to ensure fully capacitated municipalities.

Consensus on the understanding of capacity building

Often the word “capacity” is construed as training. Capacity does not need to
be referring only to human resource capacity. In the context of municipal
capacity, capacity should be interpreted consistently in line with the
Constitution. The Constitution provides that municipalities must strive, within
their financial and administrative capacity, to realise the democratic and
developmental local government spelt out in s152(1). It should also be
understood that capacity is not the same as performance, but they do
influence each other. With capacity building, the aim is to get municipalities to
use their available capacity well and have high performance relative to
capacity. The might be cases where a municipality have a good capacity and
yet poor performance. Municipalities that cannot invest in their own capacity
should be given support to do so.

Local Government Capacity Building Challenges

Like indicated, the capacity implication of local government transformation will
always require equal co-operation between spheres. The pre-interim, the
interim and the final phases introduced a new system of local government
very different from the local government under apartheid. This in itself
presents daunting challenges to the relative capacity of municipalities. In
general, clear assumptions prevailed that the re -demarcation process and
introduction of developmental local government system would have positive
effects on municipal capacity. For example, the assumption was that
amalgamation of municipalities would provide required financial and

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administration capacity. However, the situation was characterised by
protracted        amalgamation            problems          that      weakens   the   capacity   and
performance           of    municipalities.         Progress          on   amalgamation   and    the
establishment has been slow.

In the same situation, new local government legislation and the now finalised
division of powers and functions broadened the capacity challenge of
municipalities to develop their own strategies in meeting service delivery
needs. The finalisation of the division of powers and functions has
unequivocally placed a toll order on the capacity of municipalities.
Implementation of the new powers and functions will require extensive
capacity and external support to enable municipalities to develop the required
authority capacity. For example in the case of water and sanitation decisions,
we saw municipalities who were not Water Services Authorities (WSA) under
the December 2000 status quo being authorised to become water service
authorities. This immediately present clear authority and provider capacity
challenges for municipalities, as they might not be having the necessary
mechanisms in place to provide water and sanitation to the entire area of

It should be taken into circumspection that transformation is necessary and
that the aim is to enable municipalities to confront their capacity challenges
and achieve developmental local government. There is an emerging need to
rationalise the rate at which this changes happens. The fact remains that if
municipalities cannot rapidly acquire the necessary basic capacity to deal with
establishment and consolidation, then there is a high risk that they will be
overwhelmed by reforms such as the Municipal Finance Management Act and
Property Rates legislation. Though there is a range of capacity building
challenges, it is of critical importance to single out some immediate
challenges posing threat to developmental local government and the
transformation process.

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(i)      Incomplete establishment and stabilisation of municipalities.

Some        municipalities         have       certainly       made     significant   progress   with
amalgamation            and       establishment.           Even       where   municipalities    have
successfully amalgamated there are still problems of unconsolidated
structures surfacing. Some municipalities operate without basic office
infrastructure and lack simple systems for operating. In many instances,
challenges exist in relation to the performance management systems,
integration development plans, budgets, implementation of free basic
services. For example in June/July 2002, 75% of municipalities finalised their
IDP. The question is what is the situation with the remaining 15%. However,
the quality of many of the IDP has been reported to the poor quality and very
misaligned with the budget.

(ii)     Weaknesses in operating capacity

The Municipal Structure Act of 1998, Municipal Systems Act of 2000 and
various associated policies and guidelines were introduced to guide
municipalities in establishing systems, procedures and structures. There is no
question that the introduction of the systems and mechanism has begun to
enhance decision-making, planning, resource allocation, service delivery and
day-to-day administration. However, there are always inadequate in-house
technical abilities to develop systems and support internal processes. This is
large accounted for by movement of personnel for small municipalities to
either private sector or to larger municipalities. Critical areas such as finance
and technical/engineering are the points in example.

(iii)    Lack of motivation to build own capacity

The local government transformation process certainly meant to provide
municipalities with greater capacity to tackle development more effectively.
However, instead, in some cases that resulted in a loss of or weak capacity.
Some municipalities have not started to incorporate the fact that it is the
municipality „s own responsibility to grow capacity. It is national and provincial

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government‟s responsibility to play supportive and strengthening role in case
those municipalities that cannot invest in their own capacity development.
National government has structured intergovernmental grants to provide
municipalities with capacity support and incentives to grow own capacity. For
example, the Vhuna Awards initiative emerge as a mechanism to incentivise
municipalities to build own capacity.

It is ipso facto that, if municipalities continue to experience such challenges
without being addressed, the sustainability phase might not be realised. This
might influence a whole rethinking regarding the status of local government
and its transformation.

Capacity building responses

Currently, there are various capacity building initiatives by a range of role
players,       including        sector      departments.              Programmatic   response   and
assistance have generally been fragmented and have rarely had an impact on
building in-house capacity. However, key role players such as dplg, SALGA,
provinces and LGWSETA have devoted significant resources into municipal
capacity building.

The Department of Provincial and Local Government have developed
implementation guidelines for Integrated Development Planning (IDP) as well
as Performance Management. The department and provinces through the
local government support grant, is providing direct support to municipalities in
a form of municipal support programme. The Planning and Implementation
Management Support centres have been established at District level to
provide technical and strategic advisory services to both the district and local
municipalities on matters relating to planning, performance management
system, implementation and review of IDPs. This is supported through the
Municipal Systems Improvement Grant.

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SALGA has always been instrumental in ensuring programmes aimed at
Councillor development, in particular through the Core Councillor training
Programme (CCTP).

There are various sectoral training and capacity building initiatives that mostly
complement in terms of sectoral development issues. Singling out National
Treasury as an example, it has piloted budget and finance reforms in 31 pilot
municipalities through the Local Government Financial Management Grant.
The programme focuses on placing financial advisors within municipalities to
address the issues of financial viability.

Evaluation of current capacity building responses

Mention has been made in this discussion paper that there is a plethora of
initiatives aimed at building municipal capacity. Whilst acknowledging that
training and capacity building are an integral part of institutional development,
such initiatives take place outside a framework of differentiated and targeted
support. Most of interventions overlook the fact that municipalities are at
different levels of capacity and that their needs are different.

There is a major focus on training and very little focus on other interventions
such as technical assistance, mentoring and placements. It is further clear
that the training offered throughout the country focus very little to enhance
leadership competencies of local government‟s political and administrative
office bearers. Little emphasis is also put on skills programmes and thus
giving no assurance for sustainability. Most municipalities appreciate the
training programmes to be overlapping and too generic as the training
happens outside an established skills audit. This is augmented by clear un-
coordinated attempts by various service providers to offer training to local
government. Most of service providers, you find they are not accredited by the
relevant Sector Education Training Authority (SETA) i.e. Local Government
Water and related SETA, and thus offer courses incompatible to the
envisaged skills and learnerships programme.

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On the other hand, intergovernmental grants are not proving effective in
making significant shift in municipal capacity. This is because the grant
system is fragmented and does not happen in a targeted manner. You find
that a municipality receives an infrastructure or capital grant but there is no
complementing capacity building grants targeted to that municipality to ensure
institutional or operating capacity. Augmenting the problem, is that certain
grants like the Local Government Support Grant goes through provinces while
the other grants such as Municipal Systems Improvement Grant goes directly
to local government through District Municipalities. The scenario presents
fundamental anomalies and high probability for duplication of resources.

During the transition phase, there has been an increased emphasis on
capacity building, that saw donors moving to align their programmes with the
changes in local government. However, much still need to be done to ensure
that donor support is coordinated and aligned. Although individual donors
have their own programmes, which emphasise co-financing and integration,
there are often difficulties in establishing co-ordination or synergy between
and across separate programmes due to individual country‟s political
imperatives. This frequently results in a range of different donor based
approaches and methodologies being applied, sometimes in the same
sectoral area. Often, duplications and overlaps become inevitable.

Possible strategy and intervention approach

“Clearly, there is an urgent need for greater and more effective coordination
and cooperation, within a commonly accepted framework, of all the local
government capacity building and training role players” Portfolio Committee
on Local Government.

The Department of Provincial and Local Government (dplg) recognised that it
has to assume a leadership role in addressing local government challenges.
To meet this leadership role, dplg propose the National Capacity Building
Framework to enable its partners and stakeholders to collaboratively build
municipal capacity. The framework provides a set of overarching strategic

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goals to ensure common focus. The strategy begins to assert that capacity
building interventions must be targeted and be based on a proper capacity
and skills development needs. This will ensure that municipalities are able to
assess, identify and communicate their own specific capacity building needs.
Continued problem of roles and responsibilities of various support agencies,
blunts capacity building efforts. The national capacity building framework,
however, attempts to clarify the overlapping roles through the national
capacity building steering committee, which serve as a platform for sector
wide coordination. The steering committee arrangement is meant to ensure
accountability by all role players in the sector.

A range of capacity building grants are now being consolidated into a single
capacity building grant to provide adequate incentives to municipalities. It is
hoped that municipalities will ultimately drive their own capacity development.

A recognition exist within government to encourage donor agencies to
become more integrated and coordinated in their development assistance,
particularly in the light of national priorities.


There is clearly a need for more systemic capacity building relationships to
develop. The Constitutional obligation on national and provincial governments
to support local government does not lie solely in the Department of Provincial
and Local Government. All line departments share the responsibility. The
system of cooperative governance obviously require supportive relationships
between sector departments and local government in order to build a strong
and fully capacitated municipalities. It is significant that capacity building
interventions should create an efficient market for demanding and supplying
capacity support.

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