Municipal Turnaround in Cape Town, South Africa, 2006-2009

In March 2006, the Democratic Alliance won elections in the city of Cape Town, taking over administrative and political control of the municipality following four years of rule by the African National Congress, South Africa’s dominant party. Helen Zille, Cape Town’s new mayor, stepped into a difficult situation. Crumbling infrastructure had eroded service delivery for years, undermining public confidence in the city government and jeopardizing the long-term economic prospects of the Cape Town metropolitan area.   Lacking the revenue and administrative capacity to address Cape Town’s infrastructure crisis, and facing a politically charged racial climate, Zille and her Democratic Alliance government initiated a package of innovative and far-reaching reforms. This case study recounts these efforts from 2006 to 2009, and describes how tough decisions to raise local revenue interacted with a program to stabilize an underskilled and demoralized city bureaucracy, reversing Cape Town’s precipitous decline.

Michael Woldemariam compiled this policy note on the basis of interviews conducted in Cape Town, South Africa, in March 2011. Ayenat Mersie, Sam Scott and Jennifer Widner provided assistance.  Case published July 2011.

Associated Interviews:  David Beretti

performance management
coalition building
decision-making framework
Focus Area(s)
City Management
Civil Service
Critical Tasks
Civil service corruption
Diversity management
Making services accessible
Municipal centers of government
Overcoming corruption
Performance management system
Public service delivery
Revenue generation
Sequencing reform
Core Challenge
Principal-agent problem (delegation)
Country of Reform
South Africa
Case Studies
Michael Woldemariam