IDASA Local Government Election Study 1995



The 1995 community elections were widely seen to be the closing chapter in South Africa's transition to democracy. These elections would provide citizens with a direct and equal voice in government at the most basic level. They were also seen as the vehicle which would restore to local government the legitimacy necessary to begin the process of reconstruction and development, as well as the authority to bring about law and order in areas where it had broken down. Until these elections, local government in towns and metropolitan areas had been fragmented, based on racially determined, apartheid “group areas”. There were virtually no formal structures of local government in rural areas. Whites (except those in rural areas) elected fully democratic councils to govern themselves. Since 1983, Coloured and Indian citizens were able to vote for local councils with limited powers under the Tricameral parliamentary structures. Africans living in Black townships inside “white” South Africa were legally able to vote for councillors to the “Black Local Authorities”. Local government in the “Black Local Authorities” and the local Tricameral structures in Coloured and Indian communities were constantly challenged. Rent and service boycotts, election stay-aways and physical intimidation of councillors left these governments barren of leaders, bankrupt and illegitimate. For Africans in the “national states” or “self-governing territories”, local government was even in greater disarray, with some urban areas having nominal local councils, and most rural areas being governed by a mixture of traditional leaders, regional services councils or development corporations.

Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA) survey would provide first systematic evidence on individual attitudes toward the local government system in South Africa. The examination of the legitimacy of local government focused on four key areas: whether people felt local councils were in touch with public opinion; whether they felt able to influence local government; whether they trusted local councils to govern well; and whether they thought local councils were able to address key problems effectively.

External data deposit with DataFirst, University of Cape Town.
Date made available24 Nov 2021
Temporal coverage1995
Geographical coverageSouth Africa

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