Autonomous Advancements:
Unravelling the Western Cape Provincial Powers Bill

Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation on 28/07/2023


On 26 May 2023, the Western Cape government introduced the Western Cape Provincial Powers Bill, which seeks to grant provincial and local authorities more autonomous political power. The Bill aims to empower capable provincial and local governments to address issues where the national government has failed to deliver services to Western Cape citizens.

The Western Cape Provincial Powers Bill, proposed by DA leader John Steenhuisen and unanimously adopted by the party’s Federal Council, reflects the party’s approach to federal autonomy for provinces and metros. One of the key provisions of the Bill is to establish a ‘Provincial Powers Committee’ as a standing committee of the Provincial Legislature. This committee, composed of 10 members nominated by parties represented in the legislature and appointed by the Speaker, will play a crucial role in examining reports, seeking comments from relevant stakeholders and inviting public input on the Bill.

Within six months of becoming law, the Premier will be required to table separate reports, addressing the current powers of the Western Cape government, the national government, and, if applicable, municipalities in each area of provincial and local autonomy. These reports will also highlight instances where the national government has failed to fulfil its constitutional obligation to govern effectively.

The national government has been responsible for severe failures in providing and maintaining critical infrastructure in the respect of roads, railways, electricity, harbours and public health care. Over the years, there has been a continuous deterioration in these sectors, leading to significant challenges for the economy and for the citizens of the Western Cape. Infrastructure entities like Eskom, Prasa, and Transnet have struggled to provide reliable services, resulting in frequent power outages, inefficient public transportation, and inadequate railway systems. This has negatively impacted human dignity, socio-economic rights, and equality – leaving many South Africans without proper access to essential services.

Through the Bill, the Western Cape government intends to assert its existing provincial and local powers while seeking the delegation or assignment of additional powers in areas such as:

  • Policing
  • Public transport (including municipal public transport)
  • Energy (including electricity generation, transmission and reticulation)
  • Trade (including international trade)
  • Harbours (including national harbours)
  • Any other functional area proposed by the Premier, the Speaker, or the Provincial Powers Committee, and adopted by resolution of the Western Cape Legislature

The Bill has received varied responses, with the Cape Independence Advocacy Group (CIAG) in support of the Bill citing the constitutional right to self-determination for the citizens of the Western Cape; and the ANC’s Cameron Dugmore stating that the Constitution would first have to be amended before it can devolve powers to provinces.

Should the national government continue to fail in its provision of basic service delivery including railways, ports and electricity, there may be a strong argument within the framework of the Constitution for provincial and municipal authorities to step into the breach.

The FW de Klerk Foundation’s 2022 Human Rights Report Card highlights the most significant threat to human rights as “the unsustainable conditions of poverty, inequality, unemployment, loadshedding, violent crime and declining social, educational and health services that constitute the lived daily experience of a majority of South Africans”. These challenges reinforce the importance of capable and competent provincial and local bodies taking up essential roles to address issues where the national government has fallen short.

The FW de Klerk Foundation recognises the significance of this legislative endeavour. We encourage all stakeholders to engage in constructive dialogue, prioritising the best interests of the people and upholding the values of good governance and the rule of law.

You can track the Western Cape Provincial Powers Bill here.