The local government elections are fast approaching and as someone with a keen interest in local affairs I have been following events in the media. Then something dawned on me- I actually have no clue what is being voted for next week!
First let me explain that whilst I am not a permanent resident of the Cape Point I am not a citizen of South Africa, and therefore cannot vote in the elections (I can pay tax though!) That is not to say that I am not very interested in what happens in the area and who represents us. It’s just that I have been skipping over the fact that I don’t know how the electoral system works in South Africa. I have even showed my ignorance in recent articles about the Dassenberg Development, by urging people to write to their MP, but you don’t have one, because parliament is elected on a proportional representation system; which I know now, but didn’t until I did some research. In the UK we have a constituency system where each area elects an MP to represent them in parliament.
Since I was paying lip service to the voting system I wondered how many people actually understand what it is that they are voting for next week. It seems that the election is being played out in the media by personalities of main parties, and it would be easy to think that your vote is to elect either Uncle Jacob or Aunty Helen, depending on your political leanings. Or alternatively you may vote to keep Grandpa Mandela going for a few more years. It seems that our political leaders are trying to turn the elections into a popularity contest, however, the system is a little more complicated than that, and allows for a much more subtle use of your voting power, especially at a local level.
You (not me, as I said, I can’t vote) are going to the polls next week to decide who will run the city of Cape Town for the next 5 years, however, the process is a lot more complex than that.
The City of Cape Town is designated as a Metropolitan Municipality. In order to make the process of running the city easier, and to allow for more feed back from the population, the City is divided into 23 Sub councils. Sub councils have over 90 functions and powers as delegated by the City; the main ones are:
- to encourage residents to get involved in decisions regarding the City’s policies and legislation
- to monitor City service delivery, resolve complaints and deal with enquires
- supervise spending of ward allocations on service delivery issues
- make recommendations to the City on matters affecting their areas
- and, authorizing business licenses.
The key function is by far to encourage public participation to ensure that the City is run to the wishes of its residents.
The Cape Peninsula is served by Sub council 19, which covers Tokai, Muizenburg and all points south.
Each Sub council is managed by a Sub council Manager who is a municipal staff member appointed to coordinate Sub council operations. The Sub council Manager is responsible for ensuring that Sub council projects are implemented and to organize Sub council meetings. They work closely with ward councillors and the Sub council Chairperson to compile annual budgets and implement all service delivery projects. Most importantly the Sub council Manager is the contact person for all rate payers with the Sub council.
The Sub council Chairperson is the political leader of the Sub council. They decide where meetings will be held and chairs the meetings and are supported by the Sub council Manager in the execution of administrative duties.
Each Sub council is divided into wards, which typically have between 13,000 and 15,000 voters on their electoral role. Voters within a ward vote for a ward councillor who represents them on the Sub council. Each ward councillor is a serves on a Sub council and on a Portfolio committee (part of the City Municipality system). A Sub council made up of the ward councillors and equal number of councillors from the proportional representation (PR) roll. One councillor serves as the Sub council Chairperson. The Cape Peninsula is represented by 5 ward councillors and 5 PR councillors.
In next weeks elections you will be asked to complete two separate ballot papers, the ward ballot (which should be white) and the PR ballot (which should be yellow). The ward ballot is where you vote for who you think should be your ward councillor, ie, which individual will represent you on the Sub council; this ballot will have a list of individuals on it: the PR ballot will have a list of political parties and will allow you to say which party is best suited to running local affairs; this ballot will determine who runs the city.
This is where the system can be very subtle and should be used to enhance how you perceive your rates should be spent. You may be a staunch supporter of a particular party, and you can vote for them on the PR ballot, and feel that they are best suited to running the municipality. However, you may think that the party’s candidate for ward councillor is an idiot, and you would rather be represented by my dog (He is very stupid); in which case you can vote for an independent, or even a candidate from another party, because you feel that they will best represent your interests on the Sub council.
The vote is not a simple matter of voting for one party or another, especially in the ward councillor ballot, it is about who will best represent your interests. And, in accordance with the mandate set by the Municipality for the roles and responsibilities of Sub councils, your vote next week should not end your involvement in local affairs, but it is a good place to start.
I got most of this information from the City’s web site www.capetown.gov.za which also lists all the Sub Councils and a full list of ward councillors (which will be different after next weeks elections) as well as contact details. They also publish when meetings are held and other important information regarding council business.
To find out if you are registered to vote either
- Go to Am I registered? and enter your ID number
- SMS your ID number to 32810 (R1 per SMS sent/received)
- Call toll-free (from a landline) on 0800 11 8000.