Is Cape Town or Johannesburg the best metropolitan government in South Africa?

Political parties have been arguing that the city they govern is the best run in South Africa. A cold hard look at available data shows that there is not much difference between Johannesburg and Cape Town, who occupy the first or second spot in most indices. There is thus no definitive answer to the question, as to which metropolitan municipal government is the best, however voters should be circumspect in assessing the claims of political parties. The argument that Cape Town is exceptional however does not have a solid backing from the data reviewed.

[I have also undertaken a review of local councils, that shows that Western Cape local councils perform most productively. The data however shows that “good performance” is achieved in both DA and ANC controlled councils. Hopefully, more to come as I review the data today]
“Johannesburg is the most productive city in South Africa”, protested a seasoned African National Congress campaigner. I was quizzing her about the argument from the Democratic Alliance that Cape Town was the best run city in the country. Turns out, there is a truth in both sets of arguments by the competing political parties. The exchange got me curious about municipal level indicators. However, being politicians they fail to highlight that there is virtually no difference in the performance of Johannesburg and Cape Town on a range of indicators.
Should the tables not display correctly, a downloadable PDF of the article is provided below.

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There is a prior question – what makes a good municipality?  Two innovative approaches have emerged in South Africa. These are:

The indices produced have as expected been taken up by political parties to support their election efforts, but often with an exclusion of this or that, and an emphasis on areas that highlight their performance. The description and methodology for these indices are explained at the end of this article.

Most Productive Metropolitan Council

The table below provides the data for 2010 using the Metropolitan Productivity Index (MPI). The table shows that Johannesburg is the most productive using this ranking, but only slightly ahead of Cape Town. Importantly,everyone of the municipal governments has seen a decline in the productivity rating, attributed by Kevin Allen from Municipal IQ to the economic recession experienced in 2009.

It is worrying that we can see the recession feeding through into this year’s MPI results; in large part due to diminished spending by municipalities and shrinking revenue bases. This is of especial concern given that service delivery protests have become an apparent fixture on the South African landscape. Kevin Allen, Municipal IQ

Municipal NameRankWeighted total 2010Political Party
Cape Town261.7DA
Nelson Mandela460.2ANC
Buffalo City947.5ANC

Municipal performance on basic services

An equally interesting picture emerges when focus shifts to the delivery of basic services. Empowerdex have evaluated performance based on data from the 2001 Census and the 2007 Community Survey, both undertaken by Statistics South Africa.

RankOVERALL FINAL SCORE (weighted for increase/decrease in households)IndexPolitical Party
1Cape Town73.4DA
3Nelson Mandela69.1ANC

Importantly, the data runs until 2007, meaning that four years of performance is not included in the calculation. Once again, Johannesburg and Cape Town lead the pack, with Cape Town topping the rankings.
A more important indicator of performance is the “improvement index” which measures the extent to which local governments have managed to extend services.
Improvement IndexImprovement IndexPolitical Party
Nelson Mandela50ANC
Cape Town48.4DA

The table shows that Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Council performs best on the improvement index, followed by eThekwini. Cape Town is third, only marginally ahead of Johannesburg and Ekhurhuleni. It must be stressed that the data is for 2007. More recent surveys of local governments, including the non-financial census of local governments compiled by Statistics South Africa, may provide an updated picture of performance. Importantly, it shows that in delivering basic services ANC metropolitan governments have mixed performance, with some performing well and others lagging behind. It is however unclear how the DA substantiates its claim that it is the best metropolitan government for basic service delivery based on this data, as indicated in a leaflet I have been given by a DA campaigner. It would seem that if one looks at the “status index” it is the best in terms of delivery, but if one looks at the “improvement index” then it is ranked third.
Overall, the data indicates an overarching problem of municipal performance, which hovers around the 50% mark across the two indices assessed. For this elections, the data does however show that voters need to be circumspect about claims of performance and the crafting of messages based on the surveys. Importantly, the argument that Cape Town is exceptional however does not have a solid backing from the data reviewed. In fact, the data suggests another conclusion, that across the board metropolitan governments have not performed exceptionally well.
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Methodological Notes

Municipal IQ, which calculates the Municipal Productivity Index (MPI) as follows:

The MPI combines different types of data to measure how productive the average resident of a South African municipality can be. The MPI calculates five factors: poverty levels and the municipal response to poverty; access to a minimum level of municipal services; economic “intelligence” (infrastructure used by residents to participate in the economy); financial governance and expenditure levels by a local council; and vacancy rates in a municipality.

Empowerdex provides several indices in its Citydex report. These are described as follows:

  • The  status index is based on the current proportion of households that have access to a particular service.
  • The improvement index is based on the percentage change of households with access to a particular service.  Scores are calculated based on improvements compared to the percentage increase nationally.
  • An overall score has also been calculated to minimize the effects of urbanization on the score.  Because urbanization places additional strain on municipalities, an adjustment has been made to accommodate the increase in households.  Municipalities that experienced an increase in households greater than the national average of 11% received bonus points, while those that experienced lower increases as well as decreases were penalized.  The increase or decrease was limited to 20 points.


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