What are the roles of mayors and municipal managers?

Following a local government election, mayors are democratically elected by councillors, after the election of the speaker, says leadership expert Prof Erwin Schwella.

Photo: Carli Koch

“Mayoral candidates are nominated by the parties, and the candidate with the most votes become the mayor,” says Schwella, who is the dean of the School of Social Innovation at Hugenote Kollege and emeritus professor of public leadership at Stellenbosch University.

All other council positions are filled through the same voting process.
According to the South African Local Government Association (Salga), the mayor of a municipality with a collective executive system has the following statutory powers and functions in terms of the Municipal Structures Act: (a) presides over meetings of the executive committee; (b) performs the duties, including any ceremonial functions, and exercises the powers delegated to her/him by the municipal council or the executive committee, and (c) determines the date, time and venue of ordinary and special executive committee meetings.

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He/she must also oversee the finances of the council.

The mayor is usually the council spokesperson on key issues and plays a significant ceremonial role at events, including citizenship ceremonies. He is an important community leader and is often the spokesperson for the community on economic issues (such as commenting on the impact of jobs lost or gained in the municipality) or when the community is put under stress (such as disaster management and socio-economic issues).

While the mayor is elected by majority vote, he becomes the leader of all the councillors, whether they supported him or not.
This means the mayor has responsibilities towards, and is accountable to, all councillors. The mayor’s leadership style should reflect this.

“If you don’t participate, you can’t complain. The two go hand-in-hand and you can contribute through voting. If you would like to see a change in your community, then don’t hesitate to take part in the voting process.” Yana Cronje

Municipal managers

“Municipal managers are not supposed to be politicians, but are contractually appointed officials,” says Schwella. They are much like the CEO of a company.
They must account for the municipality’s income and expenditure assets, and ensure that the municipality complies with all legislation governing local government, including proper and diligent compliance with applicable municipal finance management legislation.
Salga says that as head of administration, the municipal manager is responsible and accountable for the formation and development of an economic, effective, efficient and accountable administration, subject to the policy directions of the municipal council.
The municipal manager must call the first meeting of a newly elected council and preside over the election of the speaker. Once elected, the speaker will preside over meetings.