Q&A with two experts on mayoral changes, service delivery

The Outlier Local Government Newsletter spoke with political analyst Dr Hlengiwe Ndlovu from the Wits School of Governance and government relations specialist Pearl Mncube about what happens when a municipality’s mayorship changes. Here is an edited version of our conversations.

1. Does a change of leadership affect service delivery?

Ndlovu: Yes, it definitely does affect service delivery. Service delivery is made up of a lot of things if you look at the IDPs, integrated development plans, that are planned as a service delivery [and] development strategy for each municipality. So the idea is that during those five years, you are implementing what is already on the IDP.

Mncube: In an ideal scenario, there would be a clear distinction between the political and bureaucratic sphere, to ensure that the latter is ‘depoliticised’. This would ensure that changes in leadership do not drastically affect service delivery. In practice, this balance has often been difficult to achieve.

2. Is there less of an effect on service delivery if the mayorship changes but the former and new mayor come from the same political party?

Ndlovu: Definitely not. There is no less of an effect. Pretty much because of factional politics and internal battles within these political parties.

Mncube: The risk for any effect here would be minimal. The conditions for this change do not usually necessitate any drastic shifts in the overall programme of action.

3. What role do acting mayors have in service delivery?

Ndlovu: They do affect service delivery negatively, mostly because they don’t have signing powers, but also because they are acting they tread very carefully around what decisions are made and decisions that are not. In most cases, it is not about the service delivery itself, but it is about political alignment.

Mncube: Generally, acting mayors step in for a brief period until a more permanent replacement for the position is found. They are generally expected to maintain the programme of action, with themselves usually being from the same political party as the individual being replaced. 

4. What happens to the mayoral committee?

Ndlovu: The role of the mayoral committee is to oversee the developmental projects, process for governance and the people who are sitting in these committees are there to take important decisions around questions of development and service delivery in particular. Because in most cases, where especially the majority of the parties have internal flights, most of the candidates will sit there, in particular PR candidates from opposition parties, their role tends to diminish because when you sit with the majority of the committee fighting internal battles – and you are an outsider to that – it is difficult to steer the discussion back to what is supposed to be done.

So five years does not look like it is enough for implementing the IDPs that have been proposed.

Mncube: Mayoral committees are, by law, elected by mayors. Any frequent leadership changes or political instability has the potential to cause a substantial interruption in their ability to execute their duties.

An example of this is the very recent turn of events for the City of Johannesburg. After being in office for 25 days, the African National Congress’ Dada Morero had to step down from the mayoral role due to a ruling by the [South] Gauteng High Court in favour of Mpho Phalatse. This will now see the disbanding of the mayoral committee appointed by Morero, and the reinstating of Phalatse mayoral committee. It is not clear, at this stage, how long Phalatse’s mayoral committee will remain in its role.

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