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Local Government Elections

What is in this guide

This guide covers:

  1. The electoral system
  2. Who votes for what
  3. Electoral law and regulations

  1. Electoral system

Councils are elected every five years.

There are three main types of electoral systems in the world:

    1. Proportional representation – where you vote for a party and the party gets seats according to the percentage of votes it received. Candidates are drawn from a party list. This system protects smaller parties since all votes count - in our national assembly a party with 0.25% of the vote will still get a seat.
    2. Constituency-based - this system elects an individual to represent an area. It is called the “winner takes all” since only the person who gets most votes is elected and all votes cast for other people count for nothing.
    3. Mixed – this system combines a PR and constituency system. There are many different ways to do this.

Our local elections use the mixed system. Half the seats in local and metro councils come from the PR system and half from the constituency (ward) system.

Voters will only be allowed to vote if they are registered on the voters roll for a particular voting district (the area around one voting station.)

In South Africa, there are two main types of elections: one for metro councils and one for local councils (which includes district council elections).

Metropolitan councils

In a metropolitan municipality, each voter will receive a ballot for their ward with the names of the ward candidates. The person receiving most votes in a ward will win that seat. Ward candidates may stand as representatives of parties or as independents. Each voter will also receive a ballot where they can vote for a political party. This is the proportional representation ballot (PR). The parties will then be given seats according to the percentage of votes that they received in the metropolitan area as a whole. Each party has a list of candidates and the councillors are drawn from this list.

Metro councils may also set up sub-councils to serve different parts of their municipality. Sub-councils are not elected directly by voters. Existing councillors are allocated to serve on each sub-council.

Local councils

In a local municipality, each voter will receive a ballot for their ward with the names of the ward candidates. The person receiving most votes in a ward will win that seat. Ward candidates may stand as representatives of parties or as independents.

Each voter also votes for a political party on a proportional representation ballot. The parties will then be given seats according to the percentage of votes that they received in the area as a whole.

District councils

Every voter in a local municipality will also vote for the district council that their local area is part of. The district municipality ballot will have party names on it and the seats will be allocated according to the percentage of votes parties gained in the whole district municipal area.

Not all councillors serving on a district council are directly elected. Only 40% of the seats will be given to parties based on the votes they got on the PR ballot. The remaining 60% of seats on the district council will be allocated to the local councils in that area. Each local council will be given a number of seats and must send councillors from their ranks to fill those seats. The seats should be filled according to the support that parties have in a specific council. For example, if a local municipality is given 5 seats on the district council and the ANC gained 60% of the seats on the local council, the ANC councillors should fill 3 of the 5 seats. The other 2 seats should be allocated to other parties according to the number of votes received.

District management areas (DMAs)

People who live in District Management Areas (game parks and other low population areas) get a PR ballot for the district council and a PR ballot for the DMA. They do not vote for local councils or ward councillors.

  1. Who votes for what?

Metro Council voters: one PR vote for metro council
one ward vote for individual candidate
Local Council voters: one PR vote for local council
one ward vote for individual candidate
one PR vote for District Council
District Management one PR vote for DMA representatives to DC,
Area voters one PR vote for District Council

Note: in some very small local councils with very few councillors, there may be no wards and only a Local Council PR vote and District Council PR vote.

  1. Electoral laws and regulations

Who can stand as candidates?

The Constitutional says that:

    1. Candidates must live in the municipal area and must be a citizen who is entitled to vote in the area. (It is not necessary for a ward candidate to live in the ward where they stand but they have to live in the municipality.)
    2. Candidates may not have been declared un-rehabilitated insolvents or of unsound mind by a court order
    3. Candidates may not be people working for the council or employees of another government department who have been excluded by national legislation from standing.
    4. Any elected public representatives serving in another council or other level of government may not stand. (MPs, MPLs and councillors in other municipalities)
    5. Anyone sentenced to more than 12 months in prison after the end of 1996 may not stand.

The other laws and regulations that apply to candidates are:

    1. Councillors must be on the voters roll in the municipality where they live
    2. PR candidates must be nominated by a registered party
    3. Ward candidates can be nominated by a registered party or, if independent, by 50 registered voters living in the ward
    4. No-one may stand as an independent in a ward and on a PR list for a party.
    5. If a party candidate is both a PR and ward candidate, and wins in the ward, they must take up the ward seat.
    6. A deposit should be paid by parties and independent ward candidates and will be lost if they fail to gain a certain percentage of votes

There are no provisions for candidates to be disqualified because of arrears.

Replacing councillors after election

Councillors can be disqualified or can resign after election. If they are party representatives, they could also be expelled or resign from the party. The Municipal Structures Act says how to deal with replacing PR and Ward councillors.

PR councillors

PR councillors can be withdrawn and replaced at any time by their party, except during the floor crossing window period. Vacancies are filled from the party list or a supplementary list submitted by the party. If a PR councillor crosses the floor during the window period, they may not be replaced by their party and the party effectively loses a seat.

Ward Councillors

When a ward councillor resigns or is disqualified, a by-election will be held. If a ward councillor stood with a party symbol next to their name, they must leave their seat if they stop being a member of that party, unless it is during the floor crossing period. An independent who joins a party after election also has to leave their seat. Any ward councillor, who crosses the floor and joins a party during the window period, may not be replaced by their party and the party effectively loses a seat.

Allocation of Local and Metro Council seats

The Constitution says that the council must reflect overall proportionality of all votes cast and this leads to a complicated method of allocating seats. The method for doing this is set out in the Municipal Structures Act:
    1. A quota of votes needed to gain a seat is worked out by adding the total number of votes cast in that election for PR and party ward candidates and then dividing it by the number of seats on the council.
    2. All votes cast for a party on the PR ballot and for that party’s candidates on ward ballots are added together. 
    3. Each party’s total is then divided by the quota to see how many seats they are entitled to.
    4. The number of ward seats already won by that party are then subtracted from the total number of seats allocated to the party.
    5. The remainder of seats the party is entitled to are then allocated to the same number of people on the party’s PR list.


    1. A total of 100 000 votes were cast in Makana Municipality and there is a 10-person council.
    2. The IFP wins 60 000 of the combined PR and ward votes in Makana. The ANC wins 32 000 and the DA 8 000.
    3. The quota for each seat is 10 000 votes and therefore the IFP is entitled to 6 seats, the ANC to 3 seats and the DA to 1 seat.
    4. The IFP wins 4 out of the 5 wards and therefore already have 4 out of the 6 seats they are entitled to. The DA wins one ward and is only entitled to one seat.
    5. The IFP are given another 2 seats to be filled by people on their PR list. The ANC won no ward seats and therefore get 3 PR seats. The DA gets no PR seats.

District Council elections

District councillors are elected in three different ways:

    1. 40% of representatives are elected by all voters in the area on a PR ballot and drawn from party lists
    2. the remaining 60% are drawn from representatives of local councils (elected by council)  and
    3. representatives from District Management Areas elected by voters in the DMA on a PR ballot.

The 60% is split between local council representatives and DMA representatives based on the percentage of voters that live in each council or DMA area. The local council representatives will be elected through a list based election in the council and should reflect the number of seats different parties have. Therefore, if the UDM has one third of the seats in the local council they will probably get one third of that council’s representatives to the district council.


A  DC in the Free State has 50 seats. 

    1. 20 seats are filled from the party lists after using a PR vote in the whole district.
    2. The other 30 seats are filled by reps from the 3 local councils and the one DMA that fall in the district. The 3 councils get 29 out of the 30 seats and it is split between them based on the percentage of voters they have living in their council area. Within each local council, a list-based election is held for councillors to represent that council on the DC.  A party with half the seats in the local council, will probably get half the reps to the DC.
    3. The DMA has 2% of the voters and can elect one party rep on a PR ballot.

Who will run the elections at all levels?

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is in charge of managing and supervising the elections. The IEC has five commissioners. The Chief Electoral Officer is the main person responsible for the administration of elections. In every province, the IEC has set up an office under a Provincial Election Officer (PEO).

In every local municipality, a Municipal Electoral Officers (MEO), appointed by the IEC, organises voting stations, voter registration and runs the elections in that municipality. In most areas the MEO will probably be the municipal manager. In bigger areas, someone else can be appointed or delegated to do the work. The MEO is responsible for employing staff and making all the practical arrangements for voter registration and elections. 

The MEO will employ election officials for each voting station. The appointments must be presented to the Party Liaison Committee. A few full time staff are already employed by most municipalities to work on elections. All their election related work takes place under the direction of the MEO and the PEO or other IEC structures and they may not take orders on any election work from the mayor or councillors.

Party Liaison Committees (PLCs)

At all levels, the IEC has set up Party Liaison Committees to consult and inform political parties about the arrangements for the elections. The PLCs have no decision-making power but are there to advise the IEC and to deal with conflicts between different parties or between a party and the IEC.

The MEO should chair local PLC meetings.

Who can vote?

All South African citizens over the age of 18 who are registered voters will be allowed to vote in the local elections. On election day, you can only vote at the voting station in the voting district (VD) where you registered on the voters roll and you must have a bar-code ID. If you lose your ID, you can get a temporary replacement ID called a “Temporary Identity Certificate” which can also be used to vote with if it has not expired.

Voter registration

South Africa is divided into about 19 000 voting districts – each one with its own voting station. To vote you have to be on the voters roll for your voting district. On election day, only the roll for that voting district will be at the voting station. If your name is not there, you will not be able to cast a normal vote.

Most voters are already registered from past elections. If you are still living in the same voting district where you registered in the 1999, 2000, 2004 or 2006 elections, you do not have to register again. The borders of your voting district may have changed and the IEC will inform you with a leaflet if you have to re-register. If you have moved, you should change your registration so you can vote at the voting station in your area.

Registration works like this:

    1. You need a green ID book with a bar code (issued after 1986) or a temporary ID document
    2. Go to the voting station on a public registration day (or the municipal office on a normal working day) and fill in a form to show that you live in the area
    3. A special machine (Zip -Zip) will be available in each voting district - it can read the bar code in your ID book and automatically records the correct information about your name and ID number for the voter’s roll.
    4. The machine also prints a sticker that will be pasted in your ID book to show that you have registered at that voting station.

The IEC has the whole voters roll on one national computer and when you register the computer will check if your ID number already appears somewhere else. If it does, the computer will automatically cancel your registration at your old voting district and only accept the latest registration.

A last round of public voter registration will happen on a weekend closer to elections. All voting stations will be opened and you can register at the station in your area. Voter registration is already open and voters can register at the office of the municipal electoral officer (MEO) at the municipal offices. In some areas, door-to-door registration is being done by the IEC because voting district boundaries have changed. MEOS together with local Party Liaison Committees may also decide to do targeted registration in areas where there is low registration.

The voters roll

The voters roll is a list of all the voters in the country and it is broken into separate lists for each voting district. The voters roll will close about three months before the election. Anyone who did not register by then will not be allowed to register.

Voting day and hours

Voting will be for one day only and will take place from 7am to 7pm. There will be between 500 – 3000 voters per voting station and it should be easy to complete the voting in the time allowed. Anyone who is in the queue at 7pm and has not yet been able to vote, must be allowed to vote before the voting station can close.

Voting process

These steps will probably be followed in the voting station – it may be changed slightly in regulations that are issued closer to the elections:

    1. Queue walker checks voter’s ID with Zip-Zip, while voter is in the queue outside,  to make sure voter is at the right voting station
    2. Voter shows ID at the first table inside
    3. Voter’s name is crossed off the voter’s roll.
    4. Voter’s hand is examined to see if it has been marked.
    5. The hand is marked to see that the voter does not vote again. The ID book will also be stamped.
    6. The voter is given a ballot paper for the local council, ward and district (unless in metro area, then only two ballots).
    7. An official stamp is put on the back of the ballot papers.
    8. The voter goes into the voting booth and makes a cross for one party or candidate on each of the ballot papers.
    9. The voter folds the ballot papers and puts them into the correct ballot boxes. An election official will check to see that the ballots have the stamps on the back before they are placed into the boxes.

If a voter needs help to vote because of disability or sight impairment, they can bring someone they trust to vote for them. Illiterate people may ask for help from the presiding officer or another electoral official. If an electoral official helps the voter to vote, two party agents or an observer can watch.

Name not on the voters roll

If a voter’s name is not on the roll and they have a sticker in their ID that proves registration for that voting district, they must be allowed to vote. They will be asked to fill in an MEC 7 form and will then vote normally. Voters are not allowed to vote in a VD where they are not registered.

Postponing, re-voting or relocating in a specific voting district

The Electoral Act allows for three ways to deal with violence, cheating, loss of materials, intimidation, natural disasters and other factors that could prevent a free and fair election in a particular voting station:

    1. Postpone: the voting can be interrupted and postponed to another day, as long as it is within seven days of the election date.
    2. Re-vote: The vote can be cancelled and re-held on another date within seven days of the election date.
    3. Relocate: the voting station can be moved to another venue where voting can carry on, on the same day.


Counting will happen at the voting station in most cases. Votes may only be counted in a different central place if this is needed to ensure free and fair elections or if the votes came from a mobile voting station and are taken to a central place for counting.


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