The 2016 local government elections brought in a whirlwind of change to the South African political landscape. The ruling ANC dropped vastly in support and the Democratic Alliance experienced a huge rise in support particularly in South Africa’s biggest urban areas. The DA has since formed coalitions with other opposition parties and now controls the Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshwane and Johannesburg municipalities.

My fellow writers at the Rational Standard have had little restraint in criticising the DA in the past, and rightly so. One of the important functions of the media in a free society is to hold the government accountable irrespective of whether it is the ruling party or the opposition. With that being said, the DA-governed municipalities have all shown themselves to have improved from a fiscal point of view. As South Africa’s taxpaying population is minutely small, responsible government spending is of essential importance. Here’s some of the progress made:

Nelson Mandela Bay
Mayor: Athol Trollip

In his first 100 days, the DA made much-needed budget cuts in and in the process save R200 million. Better still, these cuts were made to unnecessary luxuries like first-class airline tickets, luxury cars as well as exorbitant salaries of civil servants. There has also been a crackdown corruption in the municipality and corrupt officials have been fired.

Mayor Athol Trollip has made it known that one of their greatest objectives would be to create an environment in the economy which would encourage job creation. In the notoriously impoverished Eastern Cape, a vast reduction of wasteful spending and more opportunity for work will no doubt be appreciated by citizens.

City of Johannesburg
Mayor: Herman Mashaba

South Africa’s libertarian populace (including us at the Rational Standard) were very excited to see the former Free Market Foundation chairman Herman Mashaba elected Mayor of the City of Johannesburg. A self-described ‘capitalist crusader’ and highly successful entrepreneur, Mashaba is one of the few prominent South African politicians who are not afraid to speak highly of the free market.

Mashaba’s mayoral career began with an attempt to privatise Johannesburg’s waste management service, which immediately led COSATU to threaten vast demonstrations. Mashaba has also come out in favour of giving title deeds to the those living in municipality-owned areas in townships. Similar to Nelson Mandela Bay, Mashaba has also spoken out against corruption, called for an open and transparent system of awarding tenders and set a goal of 5% economic growth in the city.

At the same time, two noticeable criticism of Herman Mashaba must be made.

Firstly, a special narcotics unit of the JMPD has been formed under Mashaba, and has continued to make arrests and continue the War on Drugs in the city. While it’s understandable that as mayor, there is little that can be done in amending the legalities of drugs, the negative consequences of the War on Drugs far outweigh any negative consequences arising from drug use. I have argued before that making substances illegal not only doesn’t stop their use, but simply creates more criminals out of those who use the substance, no matter how tough the consequences are. One only needs to look at the United States as an example of this.

Different, more constructive and educational methods need to be used to combat substance abuse. Despite being a ‘liberal’ party in name, the DA has shown little sympathy for the liberalisation of drug laws; perhaps due to social conservatives in the upper-echelons of the party. This is very unfortunate, and I look forward to the day when the DA sees the prohibition of drugs as the problem, and not the solution.

Secondly, Mashaba came under huge fire for making some incendiary comments about illegal immigrants and calling for them to ‘leave my city.’

South Africa is home to a few million illegal immigrants who have sadly been the victim of xenophobic violence on a number of occasions. Such comments are extremely unwise to make in this environment. Illegal immigrants flee to South Africa from terribly impoverished and war-torn nations. As someone who has grown up knowing many immigrants (both legal and illegal), this rhetoric is reprehensible and extremely unwise coming from a mayor.

I sincerely hope Herman Mashaba changes his view on the desperately poor immigrants who come to South Africa in search of a better life and I hope he’ll embrace the immigrants who contribute to the economy of his city.

City of Tshwane
Mayor: Solly Msimanga

Msimanga has, like his colleagues, ensured transparency in the awarding of government contracts awarded by the previous ANC administration. He has begun the open tender system which creates open meetings to keep government accountable in their contract signings. He has also pressed corruption charges against members of the previous Tshwane administration. Overall, he has evidently been committed to more open and accountable government, and excellent change in country ravaged by corruption in government.

From a fiscal view, like Trollip, Msimanga has called for a moratorium on luxuries for Tshwane officials. He has banned the purchase or leasing of luxury cars and put an end to parties, functions and other lavish indulgences by members of the mayoral committee. He’s also stopped blue-light brigades and unnecessary overseas trips. Trips are now assessed on a cost-benefit analysis. Msimanga should be commended for his commitment to fiscal responsibility in his city.

On the whole, the DA still has a long way to go on their policies, but credit to them for creating a far more transparent and fiscally responsible government in the cities they now control. We should have no qualms about criticising, or praising, the DA. I sincerely hope that they continue to govern in a reasonable and responsible way and hope that their policies return to their classical liberal roots.

Nicholas is a Senior Staff Writer at the Rational Standard. He is a Local Coordinator for Students For Liberty as well as an organiser of SAFREECON 2017. He takes great interest in the philosophy underlying classical liberal values as well as the Austrian school of economics. He is currently a student at Rhodes University studying towards a BA in Chinese and German.