Isomorphism and Municipal Amalgamations in South Africa: the Case of Vhembe District.
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Urban Forum (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12132-021-09432-w
In 2015, the minister responsible for local government requested the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) to restructure municipalities with a view to increasing their financial viability, a process that was duly conducted in 2016. This study assessed the requests for boundary redeterminations received by the MDB after this restructuring took place with a specific focus on those from the Vhembe District. These requests included a call for the reversal of the restructuring that occurred in 2016. The study found that insufficient attention was paid to ethnic identity issues before reorganising the municipalities in the district. Also, financial viability did not improve after 2016 with some municipalities becoming more dependent on government transfers. The argument in this paper is that municipal restructuring in South Africa after 2002 was characterised by isomorphism—international trends were copied based on concepts such as “scale economies” that promised financial viability in amalgamated municipalities. However, South Africa is a developing country with developing country problems—poorly qualified and corrupt managers running municipalities, semi-literate councillors who cannot provide effective oversight and ethnic groups that still set great store on tradition, language and culture. The MDB will have to revisit some of the boundary redetermination decisions of the past. Where errors have occurred, these will have to be corrected. Redetermination decisions in areas such as the Vhembe District need to be based on advice from anthropologists and not just the criteria as laid out in the legislation. Sensitive ethnic issues cannot be wished away in South Africa.
- Journal Article