Municipal Matters: Categories of municipalities explained

South Africa is a constitutional democracy with a three-tiered system of government (national, provincial and local) that functions in an ‘interdependent and interrelated’ fashion.

Local municipalities, as the lowest tier, have the right to govern the affairs of local communities subject to provincial and national legislation.


The boundaries of local and district municipalities are determined by the Municipal Demarcation Board, which was set up by the Municipal Demarcation Act (Act No. 27 of 1998).

The demarcation process considers the demographic, social and economic characteristics of areas as well as linkages between constituent units to create boundaries that facilitate development planning. The boundaries are continually reassessed, and neither the historical boundaries nor the number of demarcated municipalities stay constant over time as areas are amalgamated or split.

Chapter 7 of the Constitution divides the local sphere of government into three categories, namely metropolitan (Category A), district (Category C) and local municipalities (Category B).

Metropolitan municipalities are located in large, densely populated areas, with strong, complex and diverse economies, and municipalities have exclusive municipal executive and legislative authority in their respective areas.

By contrast, district municipalities are predominantly located  in sparsely populated rural areas. The district municipalities are tasked with the responsibility to coordinate with other spheres of government, and with planning and resource allocation across their constituent local municipalities.

Local municipalities (Category B) share municipal executive and legislative authority in their areas with the Category C municipality within whose area they fall.

The Municipal Infrastructure Investment Framework (MIIF), developed by the Department of Cooperative Governance and traditional Affairs (Cogta) and the Development Bank of Southern Africa classifies local municipalities, excluding metropolitans, into 4 subcategories, namely B1, B2, B3 and B4. This classification framework was created to develop investment profiles for municipalities.

The B1 category comprises secondary cities and local municipalities with the largest budgets. Examples of B1 municipalities include Mogale City, Msunduzi (Pietermaritzburg), Polokwane, Rustenburg and Stellenbosch.

The B2 category refers to local municipalities with a large town as their core. Examples include Midvaal, Umdoni, Rand West City, Saldanha Bay, Moqhaka, and Mossel Bay.

The B3 category defines local municipalities with small towns, with relatively small populations and significant proportions of urban population but with no large town at their core. Most of South Africa’s municipalities fall into this category.

Examples include Mtubatuba, Maluti-a-Phofong, Renosterberg, Swellendam and Beaufort West.

Finally, the B4 category is made up of local municipalities that are mainly rural with communal tenure and with, at most, one or two small towns in their area. These municipalities are mostly found in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.

In addition, the MIIF classifies district municipalities into 2 categories, namely C1, which refers to district municipalities that are not water services authorities, and C2, which defines district municipalities that are water services authorities (Municipal Demarcation Board, 2012).

In order to aid comprehension, the municipal classification codes that are outlined above are used interchangeably with short descriptive names. Category A is referred to as a metro, B1 as a secondary city, B2 as a large town, B3 as a small town, and B4 as a rural municipality.

The most current version of the MIIF classifications can be found here or through a link available on the Statistics South Africa website