Democratic centralism: The root cause of poor municipal performance in South Africa


  • Basia Bless Wits University



Democratic centralism, Cadre deployment, Poor performance, South African municipalities


This paper is a product of a Doctoral study that applied grounded theory to derive a performance improvement model for a particular Municipality in South Africa. Drawing from this study, this paper argues that democratic centralism, which manifests in politicised bureaucracy and implemented through the ANC policy of cadre deployment, is the root cause of poor performance across South African municipalities. In advancing this argument, the paper interrogates public management literature to conceptualise poor municipal performance and justify the relevance of the politics-administration dichotomy as a framework for positioning democratic centralism as the root cause of poor performance in South African municipalities. In addition, interrogating public management literature allowed the author to identify methodological limitations of past studies and select grounded theory as the most appropriate research design to address these limitations. In applying grounded theory, the author used purposive sampling to identify research participants who were subsequently interviewed using a semi-structured interview guide. In preparation for data analysis, the author recorded and transcribed the information obtained from the interviews. Thereafter, the author used open coding with particular emphasis on constant comparative analysis and theoretical sampling. The use of these techniques allowed the author to move the level of abstraction from open codes through to empirical categories leading to generation of empirical explanations that link democratic centralism to poor performance in South African municipalities. To this end, the paper empirically linked poor municipal performance, often displayed through violent protests, to democratic centralism, a phenomenon entrenched into the South African public service through the ANC policy of cadre deployment.