Political Administrative Interface in the Built Environment

This report is the result of a research process by the SACN Built Environment Integration Task Team. It aims to provide insights on the current political administrative interface in South African cities in relation to the built environment. It seeks to look at how the interface plays out in operating contexts, what it means for practitioners going about their work, and how it affects built environment projects. The report includes a description of the current political administrative interface, shares some strategies that administrators and MMCs have used to unblock project blockages and identifies some longer terms issues that need to be dealt with. The research process consisted of a high-level literature review and nine semi-structured interviews with former local government senior managers and mayoral committee members, covering five of the metros. These interviews form the basis of the findings and tools that are presented here. All interviewees left management or leadership roles in municipalities between 2011 and 2018. Additional inputs are taken from discussions at the Built Environment Integration Task Team on 29 October 2018.


Administrations in cities across the board are currently unstable, with high levels of uncertainty that officials need to deal with. This applies in cities that have shifted to coalition governments through the 2016 election, as well as cities that have single party majorities in council, with the same leadership retained. Causes of instability include changing of mayors, organisational redesigns, uncertain coalitions, but a common thread through most cities is the changing of city managers, and the reluctance of senior managers to re-apply for positions for new
contracts for new terms. Administrative instability is exacerbated by a combination of increasingly powerful executive mayors and weak city managers, where mayor’s offices become mayor’s departments, where administrative decisions are taken, circumventing the city manager, and city managers failing to provide cover to officials from interference by mayors and MMCs. The result of this is that short termism and politics dictate the activities of a city, with insufficient insulation of officials from arbitrary dismissal, should good governance and technical decision making frustrate a political agenda (Group discussion, BEITT meeting discussion, 2018).