The mayor of Cape Town, Helen Zille, has been awarded the 2008 World Mayor prize by City Mayors, an international urban affairs think tank, a statement said on Monday.
Editor of City Mayors, Tann vom Hove, said Zille had dedicated her professional life to improve the well-being of South Africans.
"Helen Zille was the judging panel's unanimous choice for the 2008 World Mayor Prize. This amazing woman was making a difference and giving people hope.
"Her only equals in South Africa are Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela," the statement said.
Zille is also leader of South Africa's opposition, the Democratic Alliance.
The runner-up for the award is Emar Ledergerber, mayor of Zurich.
Hove said Ledergerber had been successful in "building bridges between the privileged and less privileged communities in his city."
The third place was awarded to the mayor of Chacao, Leopoldo Lopez, who was cited for his work as a hands-on mayor and a national politician who fought for democratic openness and fairness in Venezuela.
The think tank aims to raise the profile of mayors as well as to honour those who have made "long-lasting contributions to their communities and are committed to the well being of their cities nationally and internationally," the statement said.