MetroMonitor: the first four months of local government

This article is a summary of our first MetroMonitor report, covering the first four months of government in the metropolitan municipalities since the November 2021 election. The full report can be found here.

 

Coalition governments are hard…

 

Only three of the eight metros are governed by outright majorities: Cape Town (DA), Buffalo City (ANC), and Mangaung (ANC). The other five required inter-party negotiations in order to form majority governments. While Ethekwini and Nelson Mandela Bay were able to create working coalitions fairly quickly, the three Gauteng metros took far longer to finalise their governments and to fill all political positions (maycos and committees).

The DA, ActionSA, FF+, ACDP, and COPE created a working coalition and were in majority in Tshwane. Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni were more complex: the coalition partners needed to include both the IFP and the PA to achieve a stable majority in Johannesburg while a majority was impossible in Ekurhuleni without the help of the EFF. The Johannesburg council only filled all political positions by February while Ekurhuleni was effectively a minority government.

Despite the late starts and council disruptions from the ANC and EFF, the DA-led coalition prevailed in the three Gauteng metros. The two internal threats to the coalition were disagreement between the DA and ActionSA over the EFF’s inclusion, and competition for political positions i.e., mayor, speaker, mayoral committee, committee chairs.

The DA’s experience and hard-nosed negotiation, plus some luck, helped the party weather the initial negotiations and council votes. It helped that the coalition could negotiate from a position of strength once it had secured Tshwane. It helped that the ANC has become so odious that the EFF would rather lend conditional support to a DA-led coalition. It helped the coalition when Herman Mashaba left the Johannesburg council to grow ActionSA nationally.

The DA has also compromised and shared political largesse to secure the Johannesburg coalition. The PA and IFP have a seat each on the mayoral committee and the powerful MPAC committee chair is from the UDM. In Ekurhuleni, despite being a de facto minority government, there is some evidence of a détente between the coalition partners and the EFF.

Although the Gauteng councils have been fractious and complicated, they have held. All three have held, all passed their adjustment budgets by the 28 February deadline. By contrast, the ANC-led coalitions in Ethekwini and Nelson Mandela Bay, and even the ANC majorities in Buffalo City and Mangaung, were wracked with violence, corruption and murder.

 

…but ANC unity is harder

 

ANC councillors were killed in Ethekwini and Nelson Mandela Bay, both current and former councillors. An ANC councillor survived being shot in Buffalo City while another shooting incident occurred the following day at an ANC branch general meeting. In Mangaung the mayor fled a community meeting that turned violent.

Much of the violence in Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City was linked to ANC factionalism at the provincial level. Although the killers had not been identified it is likely, based on trends in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, that the councillors’ deaths are linked either to more factional violence or to a desire for their jobs.

Even where the stability of a coalition depended on compromise and consultation with its coalition partners the ANC was seemingly unable to change its ways. In Ethekwini opposition councillors still did not have their own offices four months after the election while an R80-million ‘staff bonus’ was narrowly approved as part of the adjustment budget. In Nelson Mandela Bay the fragile coalition steadily shed partners as the ANC continued to shield a deeply compromised acting MM.

By the end of February, the coalition government in Nelson Mandela Bay had practically collapsed and the metro could not pass its adjustment budget. The Mangaung metro spent R5-million in January on ‘ghost workers’, apparently a process to spread political patronage to former councillors and other politically connected people. There are similar agreements in Nelson Mandela Bay and Ethekwini to provide payments to building contractors and other ‘consultants’ from the public purse.

 

Years of financial mismanagement threaten 2022/23 budgets and service delivery

 

Most of the metros, like the rest of local government, started their new terms with a large debt overhang and weak financial controls. Ekurhuleni was the only metro that received a clean audit for the 2019/20 financial year (the most recent available at 28 February 2022). Most of the metros owed billions of rands to Eskom and the municipal entities that provide electricity and water services were owed billions in turn by residents, business, and government departments.

Tshwane and Johannesburg embarked on an aggressive policy to collect electricity debts from large defaulting customers. Customers with large arrears were disconnected until their debts were settled. This policy was controversial and some customers threatened court action, but it was effective: within a week of implementation Tshwane had recovered R200-million in debt.

By the end of February, the Gauteng metros had settled their outstanding debts with Eskom or were on track to honour their repayment plans to the utility. Other metros were still struggling to balance their books. Some were considering a similar disconnection policy and also mooted the idea of raising service charges to increase revenue.

Raising service charges may be a non-starter, as most households are struggling to pay their current bills. There was widespread opposition to Eskom’s proposed tariff increase of 20.5%. Several metro councils, business groups, and consumer organisations condemned the tariff increase.

Almost all of the metros are struggling with an infrastructure maintenance backlog and resultant service delivery failures. Although a few had created programmes to address the backlogs there was not enough evidence of implementation by the end of February. Tensions had developed between the DA and some coalition partners over budget allocations for underdeveloped and vulnerable areas.

 

 

 

 

Written by Paul Berkowitz

June 22, 2022

You may also like…

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.