Ramaphosa signs new municipal law for South Africa

President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed into law the Local Government: Municipal Systems Amendment Bill, banning municipal employees and senior managers from holding political office in South Africa.

The bill prohibits all municipal officials from holding political office and also empowers MECs to take appropriate action, including applying declaratory orders on the validity of appointments to enforce compliance.

The new laws replace the 2011 Amendment Act, which included a ban on political office that only applied to municipal managers and their direct reports.

The laws are part of a broader project to professionalise public services in South Africa and crack down on questionable appointments in local government.

The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, recently introduced regulations professionalizing local government administration by establishing uniform norms and standards and including minimum qualification and competence criteria.

The latter regulation involves requirements for senior managers such as tertiary qualifications, a minimum of five years of management experience and certain essential leadership skills, such as problem solving.

The regulations also define the roles and responsibilities of councilors and civil servants, which prohibited councilors from participating in recruitment and selection processes. To complement this, the Minister said that the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency (MISA) is working with municipalities and deploying professionals to specific municipalities.

These include licensed engineers, planners, as well as specialists in energy, solid waste, water, sanitation, roads and transport who work and provide training and support on the job to municipal staff.

The Municipal Systems of Local Government Amendment Act will work alongside these measures to ensure that municipal managers, senior managers and staff members of municipalities do not also hold political office and are not deployed as part of political goals.

The laws state that: “A staff member cannot hold political office in a political party, whether on a permanent, temporary or interim basis.

It defines political office as the position of president, vice president, secretary, deputy secretary or treasurer of a political party nationally or in any province, region or other areas in which the party operates.

The laws also complement the Municipal Local Government Structures Amendment Act which came into force on November 1, 2021. These laws strengthen governance in South African municipalities through a minimum requirement for councilors and the introduction of a specialized code of conduct.

Read: Big changes proposed for the civil service in South Africa – what you need to know

Melissa C. Keyes