News Articles

Op-Ed: Are South Africa’s opposition-led coalition metros flexing their muscles?

Marius Pieterse, Professor of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand, writes for The Conversation on the coalition metros one year on.

City governments around the world are increasingly challenging nation states when it comes to development, human rights and governance. In the US, for instance, cities are asserting themselves against federal or state governments on controversial issues like environmental standards.

Most cities are pledging to meet Paris agreement targets, even though President Donald Trump has withdrawn from the accord. On immigration, some US and UK cities are declaring themselves to be “sanctuary cities”. They are refusing to cooperate with national authorities when it comes to handing over “illegal” immigrants.

National governments often squash cities’ attempts to assert themselves. This happens especially when cities don’t have much constitutional scope to govern themselves. It also typically occurs when cities mostly depend on national government for their resources.

In South Africa, local governments enjoy significant constitutional autonomy. They have the right to run local government affairs on their “own initiative”. They also have executive and even some legislative powers to administer a whole range of functional areas. National and provincial governments may not compromise municipalities’ right to exercise these powers.

South Africa’s metropolitan governments further raise large portions of their revenue themselves. This makes them remarkably financially independent by international standards.

This means that South African municipalities could easily flex their muscles against the national and provincial tiers of government.

The surprise takeover of three metropolitan municipalities by coalitions, led by the main opposition party the Democratic Alliance (DA), after local government elections last year, therefore opened up interesting possibilities.

The DA had controlled the City of Cape Town since 2011 after governing there by coalition since 2006. But all other metropolitan municipal councils in South Africa were comfortably controlled by the African National Congress (ANC), until the 2016 elections.

The ANC lost its majority in Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape, as well as in two metropolitan councils in Gauteng: the national capital, Tshwane, and Johannesburg, the country’s economic hub.

Coalition metros one year on

Ongoing research I’m doing looks at what’s emerged in the first year of these three new non-ANC city governments. 

Click here for the full article.

Article: " Are South Africa’s opposition-led coalition metros flexing their muscles?" by Marius Pieterse for The Conversation, licenced under CC BY – ND 4.0

Photo: Rodger Bosch, Brand South Africa

<script type="text/javascript" src="" id="theconversation_tracker_hook" data-counter="" async="async"></script>


Sign up to receive the latest GGLN news and updates.

Reach Us

1st Floor, Ubunye House,

70 Rosmead Avenue,

Kenilworth, Cape Town

Latest Tweets

Latest Tweets


About Us

Sharing the common goal of promoting participatory, effective, accountable and pro-poor local governance, the network strives to provide an interface for civil society organisations to network and share information towards strengthening local democracy in South Africa.