In the talks leading up to the adoption of the new Constitution, the creation of Provinces with constitutionally-guaranteed powers was a hotly contested topic. Some political parties were averse to any notions of federalism, while others welcomed it. Those opposed to the Provinces viewed them as a costly and unnecessary duplication of services, while others saw the Provinces as vital in the concretisation of the nation’s democracy, as well as necessary for improved service delivery.

Two decades later, there are nine Provinces but there is still political debate – with critics viewing them as risks to national unity and integration. However, the reality is that Provinces with local government are a fundamental function of South Africa’s constitutional democracy. The Constitution establishes a framework in which all three spheres of government must exercise their powers and importantly, how they must respect, care for, support and cooperate with each other. As such, this paper, using case law emanating from the courts, discusses the application of the principles of cooperative government, as well as the constitutional distribution of powers between the national and provincial governments.