Local Government and the Conundrum of Constitutional Competencies in South Africa: the Tussle Between City of Tshwane Municipality and the Gauteng Health Department Over Ambulance Services

Author: Oliver Fuo

ISSN: 1996-2193
Affiliations: LLB LLM LLD, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, North-West University, South Africa
Source: Stellenbosch Law Review, Volume 33 Issue 3, 2022, p. 484 – 500


Local government’s autonomy in post-apartheid South Africa is constitutionally guaranteed. A reading of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 shows that local government, made up of 257 municipalities, has a wide range of powers and functions. However, confusion over the scope of constitutional distribution of powers and functions vis-à-vis other spheres of government often constrains the ability of municipalities to take action over a function not expressly assigned to local government in Schedules 4B and 5B of the Constitution. The squabbles between the City of Tshwane and the Gauteng Health Department over the power to provide ambulance services in March 2021 show how some municipalities may be hamstrung from taking action that seeks to operationalise and deliver a function that is not expressly conferred on local government in terms of Schedules 4 and 5 of the Constitution. This article discusses why and how municipalities with the requisite capacity should be able to provide ambulance services, although this is listed in Schedule 5A of the Constitution as a functional area of exclusive provincial legislative competence. I argue that three features in the Constitution give the power to provide ambulance services to municipalities that have the requisite capacity: the framing of health rights and concomitant obligations; the incidental powers of municipalities; and the principle of allocative subsidiarity. It is argued that, given the mandatory wording of the principle of allocative subsidiarity in sections 156(4) of the Constitution and 32(2) of the National Health Act 61 of 2003, where a provincial health department is averse to assigning the provision of ambulance services to a municipality that has the requisite capacity, such a municipality can approach the High Court for an order compelling the department to assign this function.