The primary administrative divisions of South Africa are the nine provinces. The provinces are divided into metropolitan and district municipalities, with the district municipalities being further divided into local municipalities. Metropolitan and local municipalities are divided into wards.
Since 1994, South Africa has been divided into nine provinces: the Eastern Cape, the Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, the Northern Cape and the Western Cape. The boundaries of the provinces are specified in the national constitution, although they have been changed twice by constitutional amendment.
Each province is governed by a unicameral legislature elected by party-list proportional representation, and a Premier elected by the legislature. The provincial legislatures are represented in the national Parliament by their delegations to the National Council of Provinces.
Six of South Africa's largest cities (increasing to eight in 2011) are governed as metropolitan municipalities. Metropolitan municipalities exercise all municipal functions in their areas, in contrast with the divided responsibilities in areas with the district/local system (see below). Metropolitan municipalities are governed by councils in which half of the councillors are directly elected from the wards (see below) and half are elected by party-list proportional representation.
The six current metropolitan municipalities are: City of Cape Town (Cape Town), Ekurhuleni (East Rand), eThekwini (Durban), City of Johannesburg (Johannesburg), Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth), and City of Tshwane (Pretoria). After the 2011 municipal election, two further municipalities will be promoted to metropolitan status: Buffalo City (East London) and Mangaung (Bloemfontein).
Except for the metropolitan municipalities, the rest of South Africa is divided into district municipalities. These cover large regions of the provinces, and are in turn divided into local municipalities (see below). The district municipalities are responsible for certain specified municipal functions, including development planning, bulk supply of utilities, arterial roads, and public transport. In district councils, 60% of the councillors are elected by the constituent local municipalities and 40% are elected by the population by proportional representation. There are currently 46 district municipalities, but this number will decrease to 44 after the 2011 municipal elections.
The district municipalities are divided into local municipalities. In general, a local municipality includes one or two large towns, a few smaller towns, and the surrounding villages and rural areas. A local municipality exercises all the municipal functions not carried out by the district municipality within which it lies. Local municipalities' councils are elected in the same way as those of metropolitan municipalities: half from wards and half by proportional representation.
There are currently 231 local municipalities, but this number will decrease to 226 after the 2011 municipal elections. Certain very sparsely populated areas (including for example deserts and national parks) are not part of any local municipality; these are known as District Management Areas (DMAs). The DMAs will also cease to exist after the municipal elections, with their territory being included into adjacent local municipalities.
Metropolitan and local municipalities are divided into wards, with each ward electing one councillor to the municipal council. (Currently, a few local municipalities have small enough councils that they do not have wards, with all councillors being elected at-large; however after the 2011 municipal elections all local municipalities will have wards.) In some municipalities wards have ward committees with delegated responsibilities; in others the wards form the basis for subcouncil areas and the subcouncils have delegated responsibilities.