The great Jo burg battle over borders
Gavin Du Venage
Gauteng’s ANC-dominated cabinet has been accused of gerrymandering after rejecting municipal boundaries negotiated over three years, reports Gavin du Venage
It took three agonising years of squabbling between the municipalities and civic associations of greater Johannesburg to reach agreement on local government boundaries. This week, Gauteng’s ANC-dominated cabinet changed the lot—and stood accused of gerrymandering the boundaries as an election tactic.
The redrawing of the boundaries has ended the division between the black south and white north, and given Randburg something it never had—or originally wanted—a
According to a map unveiled by Gauteng Local Government and Housing MEC Dan Mofokeng earlier this week, Johannesburg will be divided into four municipalities, which in turn will be answerable to the present Transitional Metropolitan Council (TMC). After the local elections in November, they will fall under the new metropolitan authority.
Until last week it had been taken for granted that Johannesburg would be divided into seven units.
Six of these would have been conventional municipalities and the seventh, Johannesburg’s central business district, would have become a “ward” of the metropolitan council.
It was felt the ailing business centre needed special attention in light of its economic importance to Johannesburg and South Africa as a whole.
Mofokeng’s map substantially altered this picture. Randburg now stretches to include the heavily populated Soweto township of Diepkloof. And most of the south is now a single unit, up to and including the CBD.
The National Party says the new map is a blatant piece of gerrymandering to ensure the ANC has total control over the new metropolitan council. Gauteng NP Leader Olaus van Zyl said earlier this week that Mofokeng’s map had “substantially changed the political face of Johannesburg”.
Van Zyl says the NP would have won at least two of the seven councils: Randburg in the north, and the largely coloured south east. Also, the traditional alliance between Democratic Party and NP councillors would probably have ensured that Sandton—a possible DP seat—would have been a useful ally on the TMC.
Mofokeng counters that the new boundaries finally bring to an end the separation between the north and the south. “Parties objecting to the new changes are parties with a vested interest in maintaining the old status quo,” he said at the launch of the new boundaries.
More serious are accusations that the ANC somehow bullied the Provincial Demarcation Board—which presented a number of options to Cabinet—into redrawing the boundaries to suit itself. NP sources have suggested Mofokeng refused to consider variations of the existing seven municipal units and demanded something that would latch Soweto to the north.
However, officials in a number of bodies such as the Provincial Demarcation Board, the TMC and even government were unhappy with the seven municipalities arrangement. For one thing, it was constitutionally questionable as the city centre would not have its own elected council, but be ruled rather autocratically by the TMC. More than 40 000 people live in the centre of Johannesburg, and would be effectively kept out of local government.
Another concern was that it still kept the south and north separate. As the separation of powers between the metropolitan and local authorities is still to be tested, a real danger exists that rich local councils would severely limit the amount of money that would be transferred south.
As one government official put it: “During the early days of negotiations, the northern suburbs wanted to incorporate Alexandra on condition that they have nothing to do with Soweto. Soweto is the major issue here because it is where most poor blacks live.”
A final problem under the seven municipalities demarcation was the complex voting system that would have loaded votes against Soweto in favour of sparsely populated white areas.
Despite the NP’s accusations, an obscure clause in the Local Government Transition Act guarantees at least half of all ward seats to former local authorities. Ward seats make up 60 percent of all council seats, the remaining 40 percent being elected proportionally.
This would mean that whites, coloureds and Indians living in the Soweto municipal area would have been guaranteed a disproportionately large number of council seats.
This negates the gerrymandering accusation. “Reserved council seats mean the NP will get more than their fair share on the new structures,” says one TMC official. “But the new boundaries ensure they are no longer guaranteed a cosy insulation from Soweto.”
Technical officials who have to draw upwards are nervously contemplating the implications of this clause. “Nobody has really thought of what it is going to mean. Eventually it will be the source of many problems,” said one.
Only recently has it dawned on Roodepoort councillors that the same system will work against them: Although Roodepoort is mostly white in proportion to Dobsonville, the loading will give blacks a greater say in Roodepoort civic affairs than would have been the case if all votes were