Municipal Matters: A guide to bylaws

By-laws are used to regulate activities and resources that fall under the administration of a  municipality. The drafting and passing of legislation is governed by the Municipal Systems Act of 2000, which defines a by-law the following way:

“By-law” means legislation passed by the council of a municipality binding in the municipality on the persons to whom it applies.

The Act under 5(2)(e) explicitly states that a local community must comply with the by-laws of a municipality that are applicable to them.

Where can I find my municipal bylaws?

Every municipality should make their bylaws available on their website. According Section 13 of the Municipal Systems Act

A by-law passed by a municipal council:

(a) must be published promptly in the Provincial Gazette. and. when feasible, also in a local newspaper or in any other practical way to bring the contents of the by-law to the attention of the local community:

(b) takes effect when published or on a future date determined in or in terms of the bylaw

How are by-laws passed?

According to the Municipal Systems Act section 12(1), only a member or committee of a municipal council can introduce a draft by-law. A draft by-law must be published for public comment and, when debated by the council, the sitting must be open to the public.

Once a by-law is passed it must be published in the Provincial Gazette and other media.

According to the Municipal Systems Act section 15(1), municipalities must maintain a record of all by-laws in hard copy and in electronic format, and they must be available to the public.

The law was crafted pre-internet, but it is generally accepted that all by-laws should be placed online.

By-laws and policies are not the same thing.

The object of a by-law is to give effect to a municipality’s policy and its implementation and enforcement. 

By-laws are no less and no more important than any other law passed by national and provincial legislatures. Those who infringe on a by-law can be prosecuted by the National Prosecuting Authority. However, by-laws are only enforceable within the jurisdiction of the municipality under which they fall.

The powers and responsibilities of municipalities are set out in Chapter 7 of the Constitution, Section 151-164.

Areas in which local government has the right to administer, and therefore pass, by-laws to assist with this administration are set out in Schedules 4(b) and 5(b) of the Constitution, as referred to under section 156 of the Constitution.

Under Schedule 4(b) these areas are:

  • air pollution
  • building regulations
  • child-care facilities
  • electricity and gas reticulation
  • firefighting services
  • local tourism
  • municipal airports
  • municipal planning
  • municipal health services
  • municipal public transport
  • municipal public works only in respect of the needs of municipalities in the discharge of their responsibilities to administer functions specifically assigned to them under this Constitution or any other law
  • pontoons, ferries, jetties, piers and harbours, excluding the regulation of international and national shipping and matters related thereto
  • stormwater management systems in built-up areas
  • trading regulations
  • water and sanitation services limited to potable water supply systems and domestic waste-water and sewage disposal systems  

Under Schedule 5(b) they are:

  • beaches and amusement facilities
  • billboards and the display of advertisements in public places
  • cemeteries, funeral parlours and crematoria
  • cleansing
  • control of public nuisances
  • control of undertakings that sell liquor to the public
  • facilities for the accommodation, care and burial of animals
  • fencing and fences
  • licensing of dogs
  • licensing and control of undertakings that sell food to the public
  • local amenities
  • local sports facilities
  • markets
  • municipal abattoirs
  • municipal parks and recreation
  • municipal roads
  • noise pollution
  • pounds
  • public places
  • refuse removal, refuse dumps and solid waste disposal
  • street trading
  • street lighting
  • traffic and parking