All the events that are used to calculate the Political Risk Barometer can be found in our first three MetroMonitor reports: Report 1, Report 2, and Report 3.
What is the Political Risk Barometer?
The Political Risk Barometer is a real-time calculation of the political risk in each metro. The Barometer measures the risk of each event in the eight metros, from the November 2021 local government election.
Political risk focuses on the functioning of the metro council and its ability to perform its duties. Has a metro elected all of its political office bearers (mayor, speaker, mayoral committee and committee chairs)? Does it hold all of its council meetings on time? Does the council pass necessary laws on time, particularly budget-related laws?
Is the metro run by a stable coalition / single party or is it being derailed by infighting, physical violence and motions of no confidence?
To answer these questions, we monitored the daily news since the 2021 election. We have read almost one thousand news articles to work out what is happening in the metros.
Why focus on just political risk?
There is a lot going on in the metros. There are serious economic and budget risks in almost every one, and service delivery is deficient across the board. Why political risk?
Simply put, political stability is a necessary condition for economic health and service delivery. Budgets can’t be passed without a stable majority in council. Service delivery is a pipe dream without a functioning mayoral committee, a full-time city manager and a bureaucracy that is both professional and accountable.
Five of the eight metros have had coalition governments (majority and minority) since the 2021 election. All five coalitions ended their first year with a high – and increasing – level of political risk. Four of the five have had changes in government.
A single-party majority hasn’t been a guarantee of political stability, though. ANC factionalism, violence and corruption in Mangaung has led to the highest political risk of all the metros. Mangaung has officially been under administration since April 2022 but details of the process are murky.
Buffalo City should have a lower level of political risk than it does, but ANC factionalism in the Eastern Cape feeds straight into local government. The mayor’s position is not safe while factions vie for access to municipal tenders.
How is political risk calculated?
The Political Risk Barometer measures the political risk in the metros. Scores range from 0 (no risk) to 10 (total collapse, national or provincial administration of the metro). A score between 0 and 4 is considered ‘low risk’, between 4 and 7 is ‘medium risk’ and above 7 is ‘high risk’.
The metros started the period with a ‘risk premium’ based on the difficulty of forming a stable coalition and any relevant historical baggage. Mangaung, for example, was placed under administration in April but had been under administration before in 2020.
Each event is given a ‘bad’ (increase in risk) or ‘good’ (decrease in risk) score. The cumulative risk in each metro is updated daily.
Events with a high level of negative risk include: being placed under administration; the killing, assault or threats of violence against councillors; voting out a mayor or speaker; votes of no confidence; delayed budgets or council meetings; and violence in council meetings.
Changes in coalition partners are also risky events, particularly where they topple governments as the PA and COPE did in Johannesburg when they left the DA-led coalition to join the ANC-led one.
The Political Risk Barometer: a data visualisation
The line chart race shows the daily changes in the political risk from 1 November 2021 to 31 October 2022. Hover over a single metro to view it separately.
What are some of the challenges with calculating political risk?
The biggest challenge to calculating political risk in real time is the lack of media coverage in the smaller metros. Most news bureaux have dedicated resources for the Gauteng metros, Cape Town, and Ethekwini. This is not the case for Mangaung and Buffalo City.
We have had to overestimate the risk values of some events due to the lack of news. When Mangaung was placed under administration it wasn’t a complete shock but the events that led to administration were underreported.
Another challenge is when a particular risk is frequent or recurring, such as political killings in Ethekwini. If we were to allocate the same risk score for every killing the metro’s risk would very quickly rise to 10. Subsequent killings have therefore been allocated a reduced risk score.
What’s next for the MetroMonitor work?
We’ve recorded all significant events in the metros, not just those associated with political risk. We will be working to construct similar barometers for economic and service delivery risk. We hope to launch those some time in 2023.