MARCH 25 – 28 2002








General background


Swaziland is a tiny landlocked country situated in the south east of Africa. To the east is Mozambique and the Republic of South Africa borders the north, west and south. The country is the smallest in land size in the Southern hemisphere with a total area of 17 363 sq km and a population of about 1,100 000 people. There are only two official languages namely Siswati and English.


The Local Government environment in Swaziland takes two forms. There are what we refer to as Local Authorities in the urban areas namely the City Councils, Town Councils and Town Boards. These structures are responsible for the legally declared urban areas. Then there are the Local Authorities in rural areas, the traditional structures, which are responsible for the rural areas (areas outside the boundaries of the declared urban area). For purposes of this discussion, the term Local Authority will only refer to urban area authorities. In order to understand this, it must be pointed out that Swaziland is governed by a two-tier system at National Level. There is the Westminster system of governance and the traditional system. This system was established in 1973 when the King revoked the Westminster constitution and introduced a system to facilitate the operation of both the Western style of governance and the traditional style.


The levels of governance in the urban areas are in 3 levels. There is the Central Government then the Local Authority and then other community structures below.




Local Governments, world over, are generally formed as an extension of the Central Government in an attempt to improve service delivery to people living in urban areas and Swaziland is no exception. Swaziland presently has 2 City Councils, 3 Town Councils, 7 Town Boards and 5 Company Towns. Local Government in the country is governed by the Urban Government Act 1969, which establishes the Municipalities.


The focus of this paper will not include the Company Towns but it can be mentioned that the companies are fully responsible for the administration and service delivery in their towns. They are in some cases more effective in service provision than the Local Authorities. Of note is that the companies have the financial ability to provide the services and further have and control their own budgets.


A Local Authority, on the other hand, has a bigger social obligation to its citizens. The citizens understand Local Government to have particular responsibilities, which they further use to measure the performance of that particular Local Authority. The focus of people is mainly on the visual services that the Local Authority has to provide. These include the construction and maintenance of roads, waste collection and disposal, bush clearing, provision of streetlights etc. There is no significant interest in the “backroom” activities of the Local Authority, for example people are not concerned whether the Local Authority has the fiscal ability to carry out the above mentioned activities, they want to see services provided. Yet the financial regulations allow citizens to view estimates of the budget once their representatives, that is, the Councillors, have approved them. The people are invited through advertisements in the local newspapers to come and view the budget estimates but only a few take the initiative.


This paper will therefore look at the role that Local Authorities have played in Swaziland in providing services to their communities, the problems that have been experienced in providing the services and the attempts that have been made by the Local Governments to try and improve service delivery.





As stated earlier the Urban Government Act of 1969 established the Local Governments in Swaziland. The role of the Local Authority is therefore generally limited to the administration of and the provision of basic services, which are not provided by the other agencies of Central Government.


The other basic services such as Water, Electricity, Fire and Emergency, Police and even housing are not the responsibility of the Local Authority and therefore not under its control. Central Government has agencies that are responsible for these services and they include Swaziland Water Services, Swaziland Fire and Emergency Services, Swaziland Electricity Board, Royal Swaziland Police and the Swaziland National Housing Board. There is also the Traditional Administrative Centres (Tinkhundla centres), which are located within the urban areas and also provide facilities for community development projects within the urban areas. This they do without involving the Local Authorities.


The role of the Local Authority is therefore to try and coordinate the activities of all these external agencies for effective delivery of their services within the urban area. The Local Authorities have tried to ensure that all the services that are provided by the other agencies are provided within the requirements of the Local Government regulations and to the satisfaction of the Local Authority.


Some of the services are still provided at national Government level. National roads within the urban areas and the maintenance of these roads, is the responsibility of Central Government. Even other services like the establishment of schools within the urban area remain the prerogative of Central Government.



The roles of the Local Authorities has therefore been limited to infrastructure provision and maintenance, sanitation, cleansing, ensuring public health, environmental management, development control, land-use management, community liaison, security (for the cities), land leases, land sales (money collected goes to Central Government), and policy development. The roles mentioned above are more relevant to the cities for they have built up the capacity to deal with them. The other smaller towns rely on Central Government to be able to carry out these roles.




Multi structures


There are too many structures involved in service provision within the area of jurisdiction of the Local Authority. There is therefore no control and accountability especially on the part of the other service providers. This has had spin off effects on the Local Authorities for example constant water cut offs in a one town led to a public outcry about the quality of service provision in that particular town. This has led for calls for the Local Authority to ensure that the quality of service is improved and that water is provided. This has led to the Local Authority playing more of a facilitatory role in ensuring that the quality of service is improved by the other agencies.


Lack of Information/ Data


The country is also faced by the lack of information for effective service delivery. For example there is no clear data on the number of children in each urban area. This would help the Local Authorities take decisions on the provision of recreational facilities. At the moment these facilities are provided on an adhoc basis with no clear guidelines. The Local Authorities have to start collecting data on their urban areas, which would help in deciding which service to provide in which area and they would be able to justify their decisions more accurately. The existing Community Committees and Youth Associations would be of great help in this regard.


Low level of Community Participation


The citizens in the urban areas of Swaziland generally do not participate in Local Government activities. In September 2001 Local Government Elections were held and the turn out in all the towns was low. In the capital city for example only one sixth of the total population registered to vote and Mbabane has a population of +/- 60 000 people. The number of people who actually cast a vote was even lower. This has made it difficult for the Local Authorities to effectively deliver services to these communities. Local Authorities have to create more awareness on the importance of Local Government issues to their citizens, through education exercises. Mbabane has embarked on these exercises and there are initiatives that have been undertaken to educate the citizens of the city on Local government issues. These initiatives include, radio programmes, city newsletter, a website and hosting workshops for Community Committees.


Inadequate sources of revenue


Currently the Local governments in Swaziland rely heavily on the payment of rates and subventions from Central Government for their livelihood. This has had a significant effect on service provision mainly because these sources of revenue cannot be relied on due to the inconsistency in their payments. This in effect slows down the work of the Local Authority up until people pay their rates and/ or Central Government releases the subventions. Local Authorities have approached Central Government to implement a cost sharing formula, which will increase the revenue of the Local Authorities. The Local Authorities are still seeking means of broadening their sources of their revenue.


Lack of adequate knowledge on Local Government issues


Swaziland is still at the teething stage of the Local Government concept. The first Local Government elections were held in 1995. Prior to that the Minister responsible for Local governments appointed the Councillors in the urban areas. Since 1995, a percentage of the Councillors were elected by the people and the Minister of Housing and Urban Development would elect his/ hers too. However, last year all the Councillors were elected by the people after the Minister had declared that he would apply the principles of democracy and not appoint Councillors.  With only 7 years in the Local Government environment, it is no surprise that both the professionals and politicians involved in Local Government lack adequate knowledge on Local Government issues. The lack of knowledge on the Local Government environment has led to serious delays in service provision, with Officers and Politicians fighting each other to the detriment of the citizens. Local Authorities have embarked on training programmes for both officers and politicians on Local government issues. They have also established twinning arrangements with cities overseas so as to improve their awareness and learn from the sister cities.




Involving Local communities


There has been direct involvement of the communities in Local Government issues through a number of consultative methods like convening mass meetings. In Mbabane, community mass meetings have been called to ensure decentralisation of information to the lowest level of the community. It is in these meetings were communities are briefed on important developmental projects and other issues related to the city as a whole. These meetings are, however, more characteristic with the people in the informal areas and these are the people considered to be the poor people of the city.


Indirect involvement of the communities has been through the community structures set up by the Local Government. These are known as the Communities Committees and are, in Mbabane for example, found in the 11 zones in the different townships. Eventhough these committees are not formalised in law, they are the main link between the Local government and the communities. Policies set up to improve service delivery in the communities are done so in consultation with the committees.


In the formal areas there exists Rate Payer Associations. They represent the interests of the people at the Local Government level. The participation of the ratepayer associations is however not as much as it should be through out the country. People in the formal townships are generally not interested in Local government issues, as long as the service they view as important is provided they do not involve themselves in anything else.


The Mbabane City Council has learnt from the experiences of the other Local Authorities in the country and has started training the Community Committees on their roles and responsibilities and on Local Government issues in general so that they can contribute more effectively to development in the city.


Updating of legislation


The Local Authorities in the country have lobbied the Central Government to update the existing legislation governing Local Authorities. This has led to a review of the Urban Government Act 1969 where the Local Authorities were fully represented and contributed significantly to the process. The City Council of Mbabane has gone a step further and successfully requested delegation of certain powers to the Minister so as to short the lengthy bureaucratic processes that previously delivery to its citizens.


Formation of Professional/ Political Associations


These are National Associations and consist mainly of people working in the Local Government environment. The Officers formed the Local Authorities Managers Association of Swaziland. (LAMAS), which consists of Managers from all the Local Authorities and some officers from the central Ministry. The Councillors formed the Swaziland National Association of Local Authorities (SNALA), which also consists of Councillors from all the different Municipalities.


The main reason behind the formation of these structures was to share ideas amongst members and further find solutions to issues of common interest. The ultimate aim is to improve awareness on Local Government issues amongst members and in turn improve delivery in their constituencies.


Urban Development Project (UDP)


This is a World Bank funded project, which is currently ongoing but is limited to the two main cities, Manzini and Mbabane. It is targeted at the informal areas, where the plots have been serviced and sold, in some places, to the residents in the informal areas. In some areas existing infrastructure has been improved to allow for easier access to these areas. The Local Governments have also directly benefited from the UDP. Through the project they have procured Waste Disposal trucks to improve on the waste disposal service. The communities have been actively involved in the project. They have been fully involved in the plot allocations process and the resettlement process through their representatives in the Community Committees and their participation in the community meetings related to the project has been encouraging.


Community Infrastructure Projects


This concept is more relevant to the City of Mbabane. Council budgets about R50 000

(US $ 4386) each year for infrastructure projects in the informal areas and this includes water projects. The Council assists the communities in buying material for whatever community project they may have and the communities are expected to contribute the labour and whatever excess material they may require. They are further expected to manage the project from inception to completion.


Strategic Plan and Economic Development Strategy


The Mbabane City Council has just completed both the Economic Development Strategy and the Strategic Plan. These are meant to guide the development of the city with the aim of meeting particular targets within set dates. It is intended that both strategic plan and economic development strategy will improve service delivery in the city. Both Strategies involved all sectors of the community including the Councillors.


Public/ Private Partnerships


This is the direction in which the City Council of Mbabane is headed. Council has recently outsourced the management of the Mbabane Bus Rank. Council will only charge a minimal fee to the Managers of the rank and also monitor the performance of the new managers to ensure that they maintain the agreed upon standards. The main aim of this partnership is to ensure that this service to the community is improved but not to the detriment of the citizens of the city.




The role of the Local Authorities in the urban areas will always revolve around ensuring the provision of basic services, the facilitation and control of the overall development of our cities today.  The expectations of the communities in general and the individual in the street will always be high. What remains for Local Authorities to do is to find strategies that will improve service delivery and further create an enabling environment for the development of their cities.


One strategy involves the empowerment of the locals both in decision-making and actual implementation. It is not enough to set up strategies that will allow for decentralised decision making if the people cannot be involved to an extent in the actual implementation. Local Authorities therefore need to vigorously embark on a community participation exercise at most levels of decision-making and implementation. There is a further need to encourage private sector involvement in Local Development issues in the form of partnerships with the Local Governments. The private sector provides quality services and they have the financial capability to do so. The Local Authorities can no longer ignore this fact and need to pursue partnerships with the private sector. The financial inadequacy of Local Governments will always be an impediment to quality service delivery. With this continued financial crisis, the role of the Local Authorities will be limited to, amongst other things, maintenance of infrastructure instead of its provision.