Six mayors in less than two years: Johannesburg, the city where political office is measured in weeks

Six mayors in less than two years: Johannesburg, the city in which political positions are measured in weeks and months (REUTERS) (SIPHIWE SIBEKO /)

johannesburg It is famous for several issues. is the largest city in South Africaknew to be a goldmine that seduced explorers from all over the world, was the seat of the FIFA World Cup in 2010 and is now also known for its political charges express.

In the last 22 months, the city has changed its mayor six times, in a clear struggle between officials who dispute power at the expense of the well-being and correct development of its 5.6 million citizens.

The last of these changes took place days ago, in May, with the assumption of Kabelo Gwamanda by the local executive. His arrival, however, was not easy. On the contrary, it came after several days of negotiations and tensions since he belongs to a very weak party. In the last elections he did not get more than 1% of the votes.

Kabelo Gwamanda
Kabelo Gwamanda took office in May as Joburg’s sixth mayor in 22 months

But, in the midst of this kind of political joke and as a consequence of a vacuum that has disoriented the population, Gwamanda obtained the majority of the votes of the 270 elected councilors of the city.

The big question now is whether he will manage to stay in his position for a long time and thus put an end to this chapter of constant changes or if he will follow the trend of his predecessors and see his departure in a few weeks.

This municipal chaos that derives from the fight for power between politicians and their inability to remain faithful to a single leaderaffects the inhabitants of Johannesburg, who are held hostage by this situation.

“We, as a government, have to offer services for which -at least- it is worth contributing. Let us collaborate so that the heart of the city of Johannesburg beats again, ”Gwamanda said at his inauguration, with an air of hope and change, just as previous mayors did.

Meanwhile, dry taps, mountains of garbage, dilapidated buildings, days without electricity and wrecked streets and unpaved are some of the postcards that can often be seen in this city. Almost half of the population lives below the poverty line and infrastructure works and improvements are almost non-existent.

Almost half of Johannesburg's population of 5.6 million people lives below the poverty line (REUTERS)
Almost half of the population of Johannesburg, of 5.6 million people, lives below the poverty line (REUTERS) (ROGAN WARD /)

“A First Class African City”sells the municipal slogan that only refers to the rich mining areas and the few luxury shopping centers and gentrified communities, while there are workers who cannot access decent housing and live in bungalows and robust shelters.

And, although it is hard to believe, the scenario can still be worse.

South Africa will hold its presidential elections next year, which means that the parties will begin to form coalitions that allow them to break the 50% threshold – since none manages to obtain more than half of the votes independently – and, thus, become with control of the city council and elect a new mayor.

This scenario has been seen for two years in the city where the ruling coalitions themselves are pitted against each other and give rise to new alliances, purely with electoral interests.

south africa parliament
For years, the ruling coalitions have been facing each other and giving rise to new alliances, purely with electoral interests (Getty Images)

“This is childish. We can no longer trust these people,” lamented Junior Manyama, a member of the African National Congress -the city’s largest political party-, who did not hesitate to express his discontent when he learned that his organization -with 91 seats- accepted an agreement to share can. This allows a member of a party with only three seats to run the largest city in the country.

There was, however, a time when South Africans need not have worried about weakening politics at home. This stability dates back to the two decades after the first democratic elections were held in 1994when the party African National Congress dominated the pollsboth at the national and municipal levels.

That spring seemed eternal but, over the years, the ANC has been losing control of several important municipalities and, ahead of the 2024 elections, analysts estimate that their adherence could -even- be below 50 percent for the first time.

In the 2024 elections, the ANC could not have 50% of the voters and be forced to ally with other factions (AFP)
In the 2024 elections, the ANC could not have 50% of the voters and be forced to ally with other factions (AFP)

As a consequence, once again the President and other senior leaders must be elected through these alliances expressopportunistic and -clearly- unstable.

Michael Beaumontnational chairman of the ActionSA party, the third largest in joburg -as the city is colloquially known-, commented that “the ANC is going to campaign actively saying: ‘A known bad guy is better than this coalition mess’”.

But all does not seem to be lost. Determined to live happily despite these obstacles, Johannesburgers flood the streets with music, festivals and local food. Visitors wander through art exhibitions and plays, gardens with native flora, and fashion markets and artisan pieces that provide light, even on days when supplies are scarce.

The inhabitants of Johannesburg do not lose hope and deposit their joy in the streets embodied in art and life (EFE)
The inhabitants of Johannesburg do not lose hope and deposit their joy in the streets embodied in art and life (EFE) (KIM LUDBROOK /)

We will have to wait, then, for the country to elect its new authorities next year and see what could more: if the bid for the power of politics or the strength of the inhabitantswho do not lose hope that things can change.

We will also have to see if Gwamanda will see this from his position or if he will also be a temporary tenant of the Executive position.

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