Take Action: How to petition & get info

Let us petition

A petition is a known method for informing the council and its administration that there is a large group of people who have a particular view on an issue that they believe requires action.

Municipalities are obligated to respond to petitions received from the public, according to Section 17(2)(a) of the Municipal Systems Act.

The act states:

(2) A municipality must establish appropriate mechanisms, processes and procedures to enable the local community to participate in the affairs of the municipality, and must for this purpose provide for:

  • the receipt, processing and consideration of petitions and complaints lodged by members of the local community
  • notification and public comment procedures, when appropriate
  • public meetings and hearings by the municipal council and other political structures and political office bearers of the municipality, when appropriate
  • consultative sessions with locally recognised community organisations and, where appropriate, traditional authorities
  • report-back to the local community

Parliament, the nine provincial legislatures and all municipalities must have a petition policy in place. It is a constitutional requirement. See this example from the Swellendam Local Municipality, Western Cape.

And anyone can submit a petition.

A petition is a known method for informing the council and its administration that there is a large group of people who have a particular view on an issue that they believe requires action.

Examples of why people petition their municipality include:

  • housing issues
  • street light installation
  • traffic calming measures
  • land use disputes
  • service delivery issues such as refuse collection, water and electricity distribution

Here is the process to follow to submit your petition.

  • Get the petition signed (in person or digitally) by affected communities.
  • Make sure you have more than one copy of the final document.

When it comes to submitting the petition, you can:

  • Submit to your local councillor, who must submit it to the council.
  • Submit it directly to the Speaker’s office.
  • Submit directly to the Municipal Manager’s office.
  • Deliver the petition at the end of a formally organised public march.

It is likely that you will email the petition to the respective offices, however due to the bureaucratic nature of South African municipalities, their poor record-keeping and non-response to any formal communication, it is advisable that you hand deliver a hard-copy version of the petition to the municipality’s office and obtain an acknowledgement of receipt.

In this video it is explained how you petition the Gauteng Provincial Legislature. The process is fairly similar for most provincial governments and municipalities. Source: Gauteng Provincial Legislature

Questions to council

Councillors are allowed to ask questions to municipal officials, and you can ask your local councillor to ask a question on your behalf to help extract information that may be helpful to your cause.

The process in how questions are governed is set out in the Standing Rules and Orders for Meetings of the Council and its Committees.

The South African Local Government Association has made available a generic version available to all municipalities. It can be found here.

However, check whether your municipality has drafted its own standing rules and orders.

In the generic version, under Section 37,  it states:

37.1) Any member may submit a question requiring a written reply from any political office bearer, the municipal manager or senior manager of the municipality, concerning any matter related to the effective performance of the functions of the municipality and the exercise of its powers, provided that a written notice of such a questions has been submitted to the Speaker or chairperson and the municipal manager at least 10 (ten) days prior to the council or committee meeting, and the political office bearer and the municipal manager shall ensure that the member receives a written reply at the meeting.

37.2) If after the question has been replied to, a member is of the opinion that the reply is not clear or satisfactory, he or she may, with the permission of the Speaker or chairperson, request a follow-up question.

37.3) All questions duly given notice of and all responses submitted shall be recorded in the minutes of the meeting.

Accessing meetings

Every municipal resident has a right to attend all council meetings and access the minutes.

The Municipal Systems Act covers extensively the need for public participation in certain aspects of municipal business.

In Section 20(1) it says:

“Meetings of a municipal council and those of its committees are open to the public, including the media, and the council or such committee may not exclude the public, including the media, from a meeting” unless it is “reasonable to do so”.

An example of “reasonable to do so” would include discussing disciplinary matters or investigative reports that may still need further investigation and lead to criminal charges. However, this exclusion cannot be arbitrary and must be stated within the Rules of Order by-laws.

Attending physical meetings is difficult for most members of the public because they don’t always run according to the diarised schedule, they are in the middle of the working day, they can be difficult to get to and sometimes they are arbitrarily cancelled.

For example, to attend a council or committee meeting in eThekwini Metro you need to put aside a good portion of the day. Most meetings start anywhere between 9.30am and 11am and can run for three to six hours. An added problem is that the committee meetings diary is not posted online.

The reality is that if such issues can be faced at a large, well-resourced metropolitan, it is likely similar issues are faced at smaller, less resourced municipalities.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has had untold negative consequences on how we live, one positive spin-off has been that most council and committee meetings are now streamed online or held in hybrid settings.

Virtual meetings have made attending such meetings much easier. All you need to do is obtain the  link.

Ideally the links should be posted on the municipal website, but this is probably not going to happen in the majority of cases.

It would be worth touching base with a local councillor and asking them who is in charge of the municipal calendar and who is in charge of forwarding the meeting links as well as the meeting documents.

Councillors are your best go-between. You must use them to help facilitate your involvement as much as possible.

Otherwise, you can contact employees such as the deputy information officer, the committee secretariat office or the committee administrator officer. If you have no luck, then ask for the municipal manager.

Once you establish regular contact with the right people, it will get easier to get the virtual links. Try to build a virtual relationship with those who help you. By law they are required to help, but being polite and courteous to the municipal rank and file always goes a long way.