Democratising Local Government: The South African Experiment


Susan Parnell
University of Cape Town
Edgar Pieterse
University of Cape Town
Mark Swilling
Stellenbosch University
Dominique Wooldridge
Univeristy of the Witwatersrand


Local government is at the forefront of development. In South Africa the ambitious policy objectives of post-apartheid reconstruction and development hinge on the successful creation of a democratic tier of government close to the people. An entirely new system of ‘developmental local government’ has thus been introduced.

 As is the case in many developing countries, the responsibilities of municipalities in South Africa have been extended dramatically, often without adequate resources. Managing municipalities for development therefore requires political will and strategic intervention. Democratising Local Government – the South African Experiment will assist officials, politicians and communities who wish to optimise their development ambitions within the new local governance framework. Lessons from the South African experience will be of use in many other countries, especially in Africa, where decentralisation is a major emphasis of development theory and practice.

The book provides a comprehensive introduction to developmental local government. It includes:

  • the design of the new local government system and the issues posed by decentralisation
  • an overview of specific challenges of urban and rural municipalities
  • a discussion of special issues facing local government including poverty, gender and environment
  • new tools for local government, including budgeting, indicators, municipal partnerships and capacity building.

The authors have extensive experience in policy formulation, municipal management and research on local government. They are activists, civil servants, NGO workers, consultants and academics. Their authoritative views are brought together in this important test to provide a solid foundation for working with and understanding local government in the developing world.


  • Democratising Local Government
    The South African Experiment


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8 February 2022

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