Urban Governance and Turning African Cities Around: City of Johannesburg

Authors: Cartwright, A., & Marrengane, N.
Year: 2016
Type: Grantee publication – working paper

Johannesburg enjoys an international profile as an exemplar of urbanism in the Global South and as a place of industry, commerce and employment on the African continent. What is seldom mentioned is that in 1998 the local authority was technically bankrupt as the result of urbanization, a culture of not paying rates and an experiment in metropolitan governance and budgeting that left Johannesburg’s civil service demoralized and ineffective.

The study traces the dramatic recovery from this fiscal and governance crisis. The initial response was technocratic and austere, aimed at establishing budget accountability, recouping debts and avoiding any new expenditure. It culminated in the first Johannesburg unicity with a single authority, tax base and significantly improved balance sheet; and brought stability and institutional rigour that has seen a rapid increase in the city’s capital account. This has enabled the municipality to pursue more ambitious social and infrastructural programmes aimed at addressing the city’s deep-seated spatial and labour market problems. The Corridors of Freedom and Jozi@Work programmes, documented below as the product of Johannesburg’s turnaround, are informed by a degree of understanding of structural urban challenges, ambition and commitment that distinguishes Johannesburg from South Africa’s other major cities.

In this sense Johannesburg not only experienced a turn-around from its crisis of 1998, but has used the platform created by this recovery to pursue programmes of urban renewal and competitiveness. The extent to which these programmes are inclusive of all citizens, and particularly the poorest, is contested but the City of Johannesburg’s current leadership is committed to becoming more inclusive and better connected. The sustained public spirited ambition and proactivity that informs these programmes is all the more remarkable against the backdrop of a national leadership struggling with incumbency, and that is withdrawing into factionalism and reactive and divisive race-based strategies.

Open Publication