Municipal Matters: The political leadership structure explained

Once all the votes have been verified after each local government election, the next decision is to elect the political leadership.

Mayors are always elected by the council, but varies as to which mayoral system is in use. These systems are described in the Municipal Structures Act.

READ: Mayoral systems explained

In Section 55 of the Act it states that the mayor must be elected by the council and, if the MEC for local government approves, a deputy mayor too.

Source: Civics Academy

The collective executive, also known as the executive committee system places executive power in the hands of an executive committee which proportionately represents the leading political parties elected to the municipal council. All decisions must be voted on by the executive committee, rather than being taken by the mayor alone.

The  Plenary executive system will only be found in small rural municipalities with only a handful of councillors. Here there is no mayor. Instead, all decisions are taken by the council itself. If you know of any municipalities using this system reach out to us through our Contact Us page.

Except in the case of the plenary system, the municipal councillors delegate the executive power to the executive mayor or executive committee but retain their legislative power and power to approve policy and budgets as well as to exercise oversight over the implementation of policy, budgets and by-laws.


Whip of council

The Whip of Council is not an office bearer in terms of the Municipal Systems Act, so the council is not legally obliged to have the position of whip.

However, in 2006 the position was introduced through a notice concerning councillor remuneration

This placed the role of whip on the same pay scale as members of the executive committee or mayoral committee.

This created a reason to appoint a person to this post.

Their exact role should be determined by each council, but in broad terms the council may delegate the following functions to the whip:

  • Political management of council meetings and committee meetings.
  • Inform councillors of meetings called by the speaker and the mayor and ensuring that such meetings have quorum.
  • Advises the speaker and mayor on the council agenda.
  • Informs councillors on important matters on the relevant agenda.
  • Advise the speaker on the amount of time to be allocated to speakers and the order of such speakers addressing the council.
  • Ensures that councillors’ motions are prepared and timeously tabled in terms of the procedural rules of council.
  • Assisting the speaker in the counting of votes.
  • Advising the speaker and the mayor of urgent motions.
  • Advising the speaker and mayor on how to deal with important items not disposed of at a council meeting.

The whip of council can play a key role in a municipality and should regularly be liaising with the various party whips in order to help council meetings flow smoothly.

To find out more about the whip of council read the South African Local Government Association’s guideline document on the roles and responsibilities of municipal officer bearers.

The Speaker

Each municipality will have a number of political positions it will need to fill with the most important position being that of the Speaker.

The Municipal Structures Act defines the speaker as a councillor elected in terms of section 36 of the Act to be the chairperson of a municipal council as envisaged in section 160 (1)(b) of the Constitution.

The speaker’s role in a municipality is key to ensuring oversight, accountability, integrity, discipline of office, and the efficient running of council meetings. As such, impartiality in the exercise of his or her function is essential for the speaker.

The speaker must distinguish between his or her activities as a politician and his or her functions as a speaker.

It also means that the function of the speaker and the non-partisan exercise of that function must be respected by members, parties and interests represented in the council.

The key principles underlying the role of the Speaker are:

(a) chair of council meetings; (b) implementation of the Code of Conduct; and (c) exercise of delegated functions including – i. facilitating public participation in legislative matters; ii. establishment and functioning of ward committees; and ii. support to councillors.

The overall principle in the determination of the function of the speaker is that the speaker is in charge of the legislative arm of the municipal council. This means that he or she must guard the integrity of the legislative process. Further, the speaker must protect the ‘checks and balances’ between the legislature and the executive, in other words, the ‘oversight’ that the council must exercise over the actions of the executive.

The speaker must demonstrate impartiality. The type of functions that the speaker must exercise requires him or her to be recognised by all parties and interest groups in the council as the legitimate guardian of the integrity of the council and of council members.

An important implication of this is that the speaker is accountable to the council. The speaker is not elevated above the council. He or she must exercise his or her duties within the rules determined by the council. The functions of speakers are set out in section 37 of the Structures Act.