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Metro form of government in Gauteng

During the 1980s, areas of the country that could be defined as ‘metropolitan’ were governed by dozens of fragmented, racially-divided, local government bodies. During the 1990s these mosaics of local authorities were replaced by democratically-elected metropolitan municipalities, initially, in the mid-1990s, by a two-tier metro model and then, in 2000, by single-tier ‘unicity’ arrangements. This was a remarkable achievement. Uniquely amongst countries facing similar institutional legacies, South Africa was, virtually overnight, able to overcome the historical fixity of multiple divided municipalities making up metropolitan areas, and bring about dramatic structural change. In addition, new metropolitan government structures have by-and-large worked as intended to distribute resources across new ‘unicity’ areas: the development recently seen in places like Soweto has largely been possible because it now falls within the same metropolitan area as wealthy nodes such as Sandton.

In 2000, three metropolitan municipalities were established in Gauteng – Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg. The rest of the province was covered by three district municipalities and their associated lower tier local municipalities. But over the last decade a consensus has begun to build that Gauteng needs to move towards a ‘province of metros’, where all two-tier district/local municipalities are replaced by wall-to-wall single-tier structures. Significant background work has been commissioned by the Gauteng Department of Local Government and Housing to define possible new metro boundaries. In 2011 the area of the Metsweding District Municipality (with its two locals, Kungwini and Nokeng TsaTamane) was amalgamated into Tshwane (with a small section also going to Ekurhuleni) to form a giant new metro. In 2012 the Municipal Demarcation Board decided that Emfuleni and Midvaal would merge to form a new metro, although this decision was subsequently put into abeyance after considerable contestation (see the Occasional Paper by Thembani Mkhize here). And the vision of a new metro has been actively promoted in the West Rand, although here again the Demarcation Board decided instead to amalgamate Westonaria and Randfontein for the 2016 local elections.

Over the last few years, a new policy idea has surfaced. First national government, and then the Gauteng Provincial Government, have begun to actively promote the idea of the District Development Model (DDM). While the concept is as yet still in development, at its heart the DDM is premised on the assertion that national, provincial and local government (at the district or metro level) need to join their development and delivery efforts through a ‘one-plan’ that binds them all. Though ostensibly not the same idea as the ‘metro form of government’ the DDM is often promoted as a way to solve the same problem as the proposed institutional reconfiguration of Gauteng – namely the inability for different parts of government in the region to plan and work together.

This project aims to:

  • Interrogate the reasoning behind the idea of a ‘province of metros’, and re-iterations of core notions within this in the current debates around the District Development Model (DDM);
  • Determine how the idea is being developed and activated in visions and plans for re-demarcation in different parts of the city-region;
  • Assess the validity of the idea in the light of current national debates around broader local government restructuring in the near future;
  • Explore the likely benefits in relation to the likely costs of amalgamating municipalities into new metros, considering in particular the transaction costs of this merger process (especially on administrative and service delivery systems) as well as the implications for participatory governance and local government accountability;
  • Interrogate how the District Development Model (DDM) implicitly re-iterates core notions embedded in the ‘province of metros’ concept , specifically the expectations invested in the idea for dramatically improved intergovernmental collaboration, and trace how the DDM is being approached in Gauteng;;
  • Through (1) to (5), raise and deepen public debate on an issue which has seen plans being developed largely outside of the public domain; and in turn
  • Assist provincial and local government to reach final conclusions on: (a) the advisability of institutionalising a province of metros; (b) how best to conceive of and approach the District Development Model; and (c) if/when visions for either or both a province of metros or the DDM are instituted, how best to do so in a way that minimises costs and risks.

The study is based mainly on document analysis and key informant interviews. The research has academic relevance in that there are very few considered academic pieces that objectively and systematically interrogate government reasoning behind a core institutional reform objective ‘from within’, rather than simply proffering policy critique from the outside.


As of mid-2021 an Occasional Paper is being researched and written. Ethics approval for the study was obtained in early 2022. A number of interviews were done in 2022 and 2023 and a draft of the Occasional Paper is currently being prepared.

Although it was not developed within the frame of this project, Thembani Mkhize has published a GCRO Occasional Paper that explores the political contestation around the proposed amalgamation of local municipalities to form a metropolitan government in Sedibeng. See summary and output here.


Academic publications

Gotz, G. Pieterse, E. Smit, W. (2011) ‘Design, limits and prospects of metropolitan governance in South Africa’, published in Portuguese as ‘Desenho, limites e perspectivas da governance metropolitan na Africa do Sol’, in Klink, J. (ed), Governanca das Metropoles: Conceitos, experiencias e perspectivas, AnnaBlume, Sao Paolo

GCRO outputs

Mkhize, T. and Kyanyile, S. The changing municipal and provincial boundaries of Gauteng. GCRO Map of the Month, January 2020.


Thembani Mkhize (April 2021). 'Conceptualising, Contextualising and Critiquing City-regions: Insights from the Gauteng City-Region.' Municipal Demarcation Board Research and Knowledge Management Committee, 15 April 2021.

Graeme Gotz (June 2013). 'West Rand social and economic trends and dynamics', West Rand Transformation Committee, 18 June 2013

Graeme Gotz (April 2012). 'Secondary cities: criteria for segmentation – indicators and data', presented to The Differentiated Approach to Local Government: “South Africa’s Secondary Cities” Launch & Conversation, South African Cities Network (SACN) and SALGA, 3 April 2012

Graeme Gotz (June 2011). ‘Understanding and preserving metropolitan governance’, presented to Metros: the key to South Africa’s Growth, roundtable organised by the Municipal Demarcation Board, 9 June 2011

Last updated: 3 March 2024


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