The 2011 local government elections placed the delivery of basic services under the spotlight, President Jacob Zuma said on Saturday.
"People identified service delivery as an issue... they decided that this election will be about the delivery of basic services," Zuma said at the announcement of the result of the hotly contested polls.
"It came down to bread and butter issues as any municipal election should... It indicates how citizens understand democracy."
Zuma said this election catapulted local government into the "mainstream" and would dispel perceptions that local government was the least important state sphere.
"We are encouraged by the increase in voter turnout which has defied predictions of voter apathy," he said, after the IEC announced a record-breaking 57.6% turnout.
The last two municipal polls saw a 48% turnout.
Zuma urged parties and their councillors to look forward and work together to serve the people.
"Now that the fierce campaigning and competition for votes has ended, its time for the political parties to start working together.
"Parties must put aside their differences and join hands to improve the lives of the people," he said.
He added that national government was ready to work with the provinces and local municipalities to bring about the change called for by the "electorate".
To incoming councillors, he said: "you have to accept that you are a servant of the people. You account to the people that you serve." It has taken the ANC government 17 years to understand what should have been happening all along!
Local government had to work better, he added, and councillors had to be supported as they had a lot of work to do.
"Our people have declared their will through the ballot box and ours is to obey and fulfill their wishes."
Zuma wrapped up proceedings at the IEC centre, commending the commission and their ability to deliver a "free and fair election at all times".