Opposition MPs urged government on Wednesday to take firmer action on service delivery problems, warning that the situation was spiralling out of control.
"Even the staunchest ANC loyalist cannot but admit that local government has sunk beyond crisis [levels]; it is becoming a fully-fledged national disaster," Congress of the People MP Juli Kilian said.
Speaking during debate in the National Assembly on the co-operative governance and traditional affairs department's R54.7-billion budget, she said the situation was "frighteningly reminiscent of South Africa in the late 1980s".
Her remarks come against a backdrop of service delivery protests in at least four locations around the country on Wednesday, including a municipal building set alight at Barkly West, in the Northern Cape, and a school on fire at Tlapeng, in North West.
The SA Police Service also reported that residents of Kwa Thema, near Springs, and protesters from Sir Lowry's Village, in the Western Cape, had barricaded streets in their areas with burning tyres.
Democratic Alliance MP John Steenhuisen told the House that "drastic steps" were needed to reform local government.
The country was facing service delivery protests at a rate, on average, of two a week.
He said President Jacob Zuma's recent statement, made in an address to the National Council of Provinces, that "service protests are not a threat to the stability of the country" displayed a "remarkable political naiveté".
On the co-operative governance department's turn-a-round strategy, aimed at reforming municipalities, Steenhuisen said some municipalities had been turned around so many times they had ended up facing the exact same direction they were when they started.
"The truth of the matter... is that we've been turned around so many times that we've actually begun to become a little bit dizzy," he said, to laughter from MPs.
The Inkatha Freedom Party's Peter Smith referred to the "appalling" state of local governance, while Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenwald warned of a descent into anarchy.
"If no strong action is taken against corrupt officials... there will be total anarchy in local governance," he said.
Opening the debate earlier, Co-operative Governance Minister Richard Baloyi announced that the government planned to hold a series of "service delivery assessment sessions" around the country.
These would "engage with all councillors, all traditional leaders, and finally, all civil society formations, all on service delivery questions".
His department would also review legislation that some claimed was impeding service delivery.
"We have put together a team of law experts to deal with this matter, in that we either establish facts and validate the claims and then continue to review the laws, or we fail to validate and then remove such laws from the list."
This review would be completed by August this year.
On service delivery protests, he condemned the violence.
"People are getting intolerant of the situation and easily take to the streets and become extremely violent at times."
"We have seen the destruction of government property and councillors' houses at the Lesedi Municipality in Gauteng recently."
Residents of Sunrise Park, in Rustenburg, had referred to a "war-zone"-like situation in their area.
"We condemn this [violence] in the strongest possible terms, more so when some of these issues raised may be finalised without resorting to violence," he said.