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Municipal ward committees: What you need to know

Written by Chris Bathembu

Local Government

South Africa recently held free and fair Local Government Elections. Now the focus is on another important aspect of the local government system in South Africa: the formation of ward committees.

Ward committees give community members a platform to make inputs into decisions made at their local councils.Vuk’uzenzele looks at the role and functions of ward committees since the system was introduced in 2005.

According to legislation, the first meeting of the newly elected council must take place within 14 days after the election results are gazetted.

What are ward committees?

Ward committees are made up of representatives of a particular ward.

They are made up of members who represent various interests within the ward and are chaired by the ward councillor.

They are meant to be an institutionalised channel of communication and interaction between communities and municipalities.

Ward committees give community members the opportunity to express their needs, their opinions on issues that affect their lives and to have them heard at municipal level via the ward councillor.

Wards committees are advisory bodies created within the sphere of civil society to assist the ward councillor in carrying out his or her mandate in the most democratic manner possible.

Why are ward committees important?

Ward committees are important to the local government system as they are the link between the councillor and the community.

The ward committee system is also said to play an important role in giving meaning to the notion of “the people shall govern”. This is because local government is regarded as the level of government closest to the people and ward committees are just one way to ensure that citizens give input to the decisions that local councils make.

The South African Local Government Association (Salga), which is the sole representative of all municipalities, says ward committees are also important in promoting relations between ward councillors and key stakeholders at ward level, such as traditional councils and community development workers.

Election of ward committees

Salga has developed a code of conduct for ward committee members, which is available at all municipalities. However, municipal councils must make the rules regarding the election of ward committee members, including how often meetings take place and the closure of ward committees.

The Speaker, who is appointed by the majority of council members, calls a meeting in the ward for the election of a ward committee.

Nominations shall be open for 10 but not more than 15 nominees.

What are the functions of ward committees?

Ward committees attend to all matters that affect and benefit communities.According to the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, a ward committee may make recommendations on any matter affecting its ward to the ward councillor, or through the ward councillor to the municipal council, the executive committee or support committee.

The ward committee will be regarded as the statutory structure recognised by the municipal council as its consultative body and communication channel on matters affecting the ward, including, but not limited to:

  • representing the community in the compilation and implementation of the Integrated Development Plan (IDP)
  • ensuring constructive and harmonious interaction between the municipality and the community
  • attending to all matters that affect and benefit the community
  • acting in the best interest of the community, and ensuring active participation of the community in the municipality’s budgetary process.
The role played by ward committees

Ward committees have an important role to play in bridging the gap between the municipality, its council and the community. Some of the objectives of ward committees are to:

  • create formal unbiased communication channels and co-operative partnerships between the municipality and the community within a ward
  • ensure contact between the municipality and the community through the use and payment of services
  • create harmonious relationships between the residents of a ward, ward councillor, geographically diverse community and the municipality
  • facilitate public participation in the process of managing the development, review, and implementation of the municipality’s IDP
  • act as an advisory body on council policies and matters affecting communities in the ward
  •  monitor the implementation of ward plans, programmes and ward discretionary funds (note that control of funds and implementation rests with council)
  • coordinate ward programmes.

Terms of office for ward committees

The terms of office of ward committees are aligned to those of municipal councils and the municipality must, as soon as possible after the results of the elections have been declared, arrange ward meetings so that the interest groups in the ward can be identified.Thereafter ward committees are elected according to the system applicable in each respective municipality.