Mayors in the metros: 1 November 2021 – present

Since the 2021 local government election, there has been an increase in the turnover of mayors and other executive members of local government, including speakers and MMCs. The chaos in metro councils has increased as service delivery failures become more apparent and municipal finances weaken. Is there a correlation between the number of new mayors and the failures in local government?

Coalition governments have higher levels of political risk and instability

Since the November 2021 local election, political risk has increased in the metros and governance has subsequently deteriorated. Five of the eight metros (Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni, Nelson Mandela Bay, and eThekwini) had no party with an outright majority after the election while a sixth (Mangaung) yielded a very slim majority for the ANC. Only Cape Town and Buffalo City have had clear majorities, for the DA and ANC respectively. 

The chart below shows how frequently there have been changes in the metros’ mayors. Only Cape Town and eThekwini still have the same mayors that were elected just after the 2021 election. Ekurhuleni and Buffalo City have had two mayors, Nelson Mandela Bay has had three mayors, Mangaung and Tshwane have had four mayors  – while Johannesburg has had a staggering five mayors. All calculations include acting and temporary mayors.

Hovering over the chart will display a popup with the name of the mayor, their party, and the length of their term of office.

The table does not include the many motions of no confidence that failed or were abandoned, nor does it include the changing speakers, deputy mayors, chief whips and mayoral committee members that were deposed or elected with each change in government. All of these challenges and changes bring additional instability and governance disruptions.

The links between coalition governments and poor outcomes are strong but not absolute

The trend of changing governments started during the 2016-2021 administration. Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay each experienced at least one significant change during this period. These changes have become much more prevalent since 2021.

An outright majority has been no guarantee of stability or longevity: the ANC in Buffalo City recalled its mayor Xola Pakati and replaced him with Princess Faku while it enjoyed an unbroken majority. Conversely, the ANC’s mayor in eThekwini, Mxolisi Kaunda, has enjoyed an unbroken run as mayor despite shifting coalitions and different partners over the last two years.

It is clear, particularly in ANC-led metros, that an outright majority does not automatically lead to political stability. After all, ANC factionalism has kept Mangaung and Buffalo City teetering. However, weak coalitions – and weaker leaders – have definitely contributed to poorer outcomes in Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, eThekwini and Nelson Mandela Bay. 

The ANC and EFF-led Government of Local Unity (GLU) coalitions in Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Nelson Mandela Bay have elected compromise candidates as mayors since the two big parties have been unwilling to elect mayors from each other’s party. The quality of candidates in Johannesburg has been particularly poor and the current mayor, Kabelo Gwamanda, has been absent from too many important meetings to count.

Coalition chaos has been used to camouflage questionable, even criminal, behaviour

In these three metros, councillors from the DA, ActionSA and other members of the Multiparty Coalition (MPC) have made a growing number of complaints against the conduct of GLU members. In addition to the non-attendance of council meetings and budget debates, GLU-linked councillors have been accused of manipulating council programmes to pass their own questionable agendas. 

There is evidence of the GLU-controlled municipalities ignoring the transparency and accountability mechanisms of local government. The GLU coalitions also appear to be less stable than the MPC coalition in Tshwane. The ANC and EFF have been threatening for months to leave the GLU coalitions and the two parties are openly accusing each other of malfeasance in Ekurhuleni.

The DA-led coalition in Tshwane is hardly blameless: the shocking audit disclaimer for the 2021/22 financial year happened under the party’s watch, while former DA mayor Randall Williams enjoyed two unbroken years of control in the metro. The recent decision of the Tshwane coalition to create a deputy mayor position has been challenged by opposition parties.

The failures of coalitions is a big concern for the next three years of local government – and for the 2024 election

Our monthly MetroMonitor reports show that governance and service delivery continue to worsen across the metros. Councils are becoming less accountable while the financial health of metros declines and service delivery falls apart.

There is a growing body of evidence, particularly in Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and eThekwini, that the GLU is using the chaos of unstable coalitions to avoid accountability and transparency. The decision by the DA-led coalition in Tshwane to create a deputy mayor position also raises questions about the MPC’s priorities.

The 2021-2026 local government term is almost at the half-way mark, and in two months the metros will release their third budgets since the 2021 election. The hopes that our elected officials will self-regulate and recommit to transparent, responsive governance continue to dwindle as parties continue to play their political games at the expense of service delivery.

Written by Paul Berkowitz

January 29, 2024

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