Municipal councillors: Improving the lives of people

Local government is well positioned to meaningfully impact the quality of people’s lives, and there to represent community interests are the ward councillors

It is not easy to be a ward councillor in South Africa. The men and women elected to represent the residents of their communities face many challenges during their five-year term.

According to the Handbook for Municipal Councillors, there are three important aspects to a councillor’s mandate: a) acting as representatives of the community they serve, b) providing leadership roles in the council, and c) acting as custodians or guardians of public finance.

“The improvement of people’s lives can be achieved through the provision of basic services, development and growth of the economy, recognising and harnessing the skills potential of people living in the municipality, mobilising the people to make their own contribution to improve their living conditions and job creation,” says political analyst Prof Erwin Schwella.

He explains there are two types of councillors: Ward and proportional representation (PR) councillors. Ward councillors represent a specific area in the municipality and stand either as independent or party candidates in the elections. PR seats are allocated on the basis of how many PR votes a party receives, and these seats are filled by candidates on each party’s candidates list. Schwella says councillors must report back at least quarterly to constituencies on the performance of the municipality. The speaker also plays a role in monitoring the degree to which councillors are open and accountable to the community.

“A large number of young people are not voting and this affects us in many ways.”
“The youth contribute the most number of eligible voters and the more people vote, the closer our country can get to changing for the better.” Kamogelo Habanyane

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According to the South African Local Government Association, the duties of a councillor are to:

1] Represent the people in the municipality and co-operate with other councillors in the best interest of the community;
2] Communicate the needs of the community to the municipal council and the council processes to the community;
3] Prepare and attend meetings, unless they have special leave of absence;
4] Monitor the performance of the municipality;
5] Raise issues of concern with the relevant bodies and provide feedback on the municipality’s performance; and
6] Follow the code of conduct, which includes not disclosing information to people who can unfairly benefit from it.
A ward councillor is not responsible for the delivery of basic services, like the supply of water or electricity or for fixing potholes. Their responsibility is to represent the concerns of their ward in council so the relevant parties can present solutions.
Councillors can only intervene once a resident has reported an issue, received a reference number, and then received no service delivery. Councillors get paid for the work they do. The position of a councillor may not be used for private gain or improper benefit.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the Local Government Elections will take place on Monday, November 1, 2021.