This year will mark South Africa’s sixth round of local elections since the country opened its arms to democracy in 1994. Political parties have been on the hustle for months in an effort to gain votes, and soon it will be time for citizens to select local decision-makers for their communities.

On Nov. 1. South Africans will head to the polls to determine the next set of leaders for their municipalities. These elections are not to be confused with the country’s national elections, where the citizens decide which political party is to lead the nation at large. 

The municipal elections are more specific to localised communities; leaders decided upon in this election are those that citizens can turn to for immediate intervention on district-based issues. 

The elections are now just days away and over 26 million South Africans are registered to vote, with young people currently dominating in registration numbers, and more women having registered to vote than men. However not all those who are eligible have registered. According to the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), a third of people who are eligible to vote have not yet registered to do so. 

If you’re still unsure about registering to vote in the local elections, or you don’t fully understand what they are and why they’re important, here’s what you need to know. 

3 Key Things to Know About South Africa’s Local Elections

  • This will be South Africa’s sixth local election since 1994. 
  • These elections will decide on the party and individuals who will lead in local communities. 
  • Local governments are responsible for direct community concerns and handle district-related public services. 

How Do South Africa’s Elections Work? 

South Africa’s government can be divided into three levels: distinctive, interrelated, and interdependent. These levels are better known to the public as national, provincial, and local. As such, there are two separate election seasons to decide on the governmental leaders. 

The first set of elections are to decide on the national government (the political party that will lead the country as a whole, which also decides the president of the republic), and provincial government (political parties that will run one of South Africa’s nine provinces). The national and provincial elections take place simultaneously every five years, with the last set taking place in May 2019

The second election season is to select local governments, where citizens decide on the political parties that will lead their specific municipalities, and individuals who will become mayor, as well as their community’s ward councillor — the person who represents that specific district in the municipal council. These elections are held two years after the national elections, and also occur every five years. 

Think of this government structure as a pot plant. If the plant itself is the country’s growth and development, then the local government is the soil on the ground supporting the roots, the provincial governments are the fertilizer that supports the soil and feeds the plant, and the national government is the pot in which the plant resides, providing it with the space and structure it needs to grow. Each plays an important role in guaranteeing that the plant reaches new heights and grows to the best of its ability. 

Why Are Local Elections Important?

Local governments are the closest to citizens and have the capacity to hear out immediate community concerns. They are made up of municipalities that are the direct voice and representation of the people living in specific areas. 

They’re responsible for public services and basic service delivery in their dedicated regions, providing services such as waste removal, electricity, water and sanitation, and road maintenance to name a few. 

Deciding on the municipality’s leader is helping to define who gets to take care of your immediate environment, the government you select for this position is the government responsible for maintaining and making changes for your specific neighbourhood.

How Do I Register? 

If you are over the age of 18 and have not yet registered to vote, there is still time to do so. All you need to do is identify and head over to your local IEC office with your green ID book, or your Smart ID card. There you’ll be given a form to fill out, and your ID will be scanned. 

While you can use a valid temporary ID to register, you cannot use any other form of ID for this process, meaning that your driver’s licence or passport will not be accepted. 

If you have registered but you no longer live in the same municipality, you’ll have to re-register where you currently live. All you have to do is follow the same process. 

Once you’ve registered, make sure that you identify your closest voting station so that you know exactly where to go on Nov. 1. 

Find out more about South Africa's upcoming elections and why it's an important opportunity for you to have your say by taking our quiz here on why your vote matters. 

Global Citizen Explains

Demand Equity

South Africa’s Local Elections: Everything You Need to Know

By Khanyi Mlaba