Les municipalités en Afrique du Sud : une autonomisation à polarisation variable

Ivan Crouzel


In South Africa, the transition negotiated in order to build a post-apartheid political order has brought about a deep-seated transformation of the state. A central issue of this radical reform had to do with the territorial arrangement of the new state. Constitutional negotiations resulted in a hybrid federal type of system that distinctly reinforced the power of local government, particularly to counterbalance that of the nine provinces. At the same time, a smoother form of intergovernmental relations was introduced with the concept of “cooperative government.” In contrast to the centralized system that held sway under apartheid, local government has been strengthened by a new constitutional status, which in particular guarantees an “equitable share” of the national revenue. It also ensures that municipalities are represented nationally through intergovernmental structures involving the participation of local governments. The new space of autonomization that local governments henceforth enjoy nevertheless comes up against the centralizing tendencies of intergovernmental relations. In South Africa, cooperative government has turned out to be a means of consolidating national power. The configuration of the South African political party system also plays up this rationale. The dominant position of the ANC at every level of government thus has a centralizing effect on the management of center-periphery relations. Yet this dynamic is partly the result of a centralization “by default” due to the institutional weakness of sub-national governments. The use local governments make of the new constitutional space granted to them greatly depends on their own capacities, thus producing an asymmetrical dynamic of autonomization. Without their own resources, rural municipalities remain highly dependent on the central government. On the contrary, metropolitan areas manage to strengthen their power and position themselves as competitors with certain provinces, thus becoming central actors in intergovernmental relations.

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