Changing tack to track metros

Liesl Pretorius

As the editor of Track My Mayor, I read dozens of daily Google Alerts for the mayors of South Africa’s biggest cities.

With few exceptions, news coverage focuses on the drama of power grabs and politicians’ often untested claims. A deluge of “he said, she said” reporting makes it difficult to judge how well metros deliver services on the watch of a particular mayor or coalition.

For example, did former DA mayor Dr Mpho Phalatse and her coalition government take Joburg “100 years back” in ten months as the ANC has claimed? Did ANC mayor-turned-speaker Eugene Johnson leave her DA successor with a “broken” Nelson Mandela Bay?

To the detriment of accountability, you would struggle to find data-driven answers to questions like these in media coverage.

As Jane Hall, the author of Politics and the Media: Intersections and New Directions, points out: “We know from political science that if you don’t connect the dots for people, they don’t really know how to hold public officials accountable.”

I have been experimenting with data-driven accountability journalism since starting Track My Mayor as an impactAFRICA grantee in 2017. (Code for Africa and the International Center for Journalists established the fund to support data-driven storytelling from Africa.) Recent changes in the political landscape, however, warrant a shift in focus since most metro mayors are axed before the delivery deadlines for their promises arrive.

Pitching Track My Mayor during a Code for Africa workshop in Zanzibar.

Supported by a grant from the Henry Nxumalo Foundation, I am therefore switching gears to track metros’ service delivery performance.

My goal is to surface data that will serve as a baseline against which metros and their political leadership can be measured regularly enough to be able to keep up with the speed at which governments are replaced.

Look out for the Track My Metro series in 2024.