You can’t leave your district during lockdown – What this means

As part of its lockdown regulations, the government has stated that South Africans may not leave their provinces, metropolitan, and district areas.

However, many South Africans are unclear as to what a “district area” means.

Most South Africans know what a province is: there are nine in the country and their borders are clearly marked. Metropolitans and districts, however, are a bit more complicated.

The Constitution defines three types of municipalities – metropolitan, district, and local.

There are eight metropolitan municipalities in South Africa:

  • Buffalo City
  • City of Cape Town
  • Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality
  • City of Ethekwini
  • City of Johannesburg
  • Mangaung Municipality
  • Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality
  • City of Tshwane

These municipalities hold the most power of all municipalities, as all municipal, legislative, and executive powers are vested within their councils.

Non-metropolitan municipalities

The two other municipality types are district and local municipalities.

There are 44 district municipalities, and their councils are responsible for capacity-building and district-wide planning.

Each of these municipalities has a town (or city) which holds its seat (East London and Port Elizabeth hold the seat of two district municipalities each).

Finally, local municipalities are the most numerous of all the municipalities.

This is because these are essentially “sub-municipalities,” several of which comprise a single district municipality.

They each have their own ward committee which has a variety of tasks, including preparing budgets, implement performance-management systems, and disseminating information on governance matters

What this means for the lockdown

The final lockdown regulations state that South Africans should not leave their metropolitan or district municipalities during the period.

You may not shop or perform other essential tasks outside of these areas.

The regulations do not say anything about local municipalities, however, nor does there appear to be anything within the regulations that say you must shop for groceries at the store closest to you.

This was confirmed by Jenine Naidu, Associate Designate at Norton Rose Fulbright.

“South Africans may travel within their metropolitan or district municipalities to obtain essential goods or services,” said Naidu.

However, on its official coronavirus website, the government has asked South Africans to “make your trip as short as possible.”

It is therefore advisable to shop as close to home as possible.

Naidu added that to the knowledge of her and her colleagues, the SA Police have not issued any official statements which describe the proof that one must carry to prove one is obtaining essential goods or services when going out.

“A receipt, shopping list, bag of groceries, script for medication, note from the doctor, etc. may very well be sufficient to prove the reason for leaving one’s residence,” Naidu said.

However, it is not clear how someone who is on their way to a grocery store without a shopping list or other similar proof would be able to convince the police they are not contravening the regulations.

“Upon conviction of such offence, an offender may be liable to pay a fine of R1000 (for a first time offender) or, depending on the circumstances, may be imprisoned for up to six months,” said Naidu.

Example of district vs local municipalities

The Western Cape Government provides an example of the differences between a district and local municipality on its website.

The individual areas, which are each numbered, in the map below are each a local municipality.

The groups of areas which are all the same colour are a district municipality.

For example: the “number 2” area is Cederberg Municipality, which forms part of the West Coast District Municipality – all the areas in yellow.


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You can’t leave your district during lockdown – What this means