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Exit, voice and tradition: loyalty to chieftainship and democracy in metropolitan Durban, South Africa

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Strains on democratic governance in many parts of Africa have led to a resurgence of the salience of traditional authority. Traditional mechanisms of accountability are being evoked at a time when across the continent the accountability of modern institutions has increasingly come under question. In the wake of these trends two broad view points have prevailed: the first is that chieftaincy is integral to sub-Saharan Africa's problems, operating as a brake on democratisation; the second is that traditional authorities have a stabilising influence under conditions of social and political turmoil or stress. In this broad climate, in South Africa democratisation was accompanied by moves to guarantee traditional leaders a role in governance, especially at the local level and most particularly in rural areas and small towns where under apartheid no other form of local government existed for black South Africans. This was not the case in cities where Black Local Authorities (BLAs) administered African townships. They were seen as stooges of the apartheid regime, and they and the services they oversaw became a central site of struggle in urban areas. Among South Africa's metropolitan municipalities, Greater Durban is something of an anomaly as an urban centre of over three million people embracing fifteen traditional authority areas. On the basis of historical research, interviews conducted among traditional leaders and local councillors in traditional authority areas, as well as a small survey of residents in three traditional authority areas, the paper considers the challenges posed for democratic consolidation arising from the accommodation of traditional authorities in city government in Durban. The paper questions whether the turn to tradition evident in the eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality constitutes an unfortunate retrograde step or whether institutional pluralism allows for political flexibility and stability and offers opportunities for the more effective extension of service delivery and development to the city's urban periphery. These questions are explored with reference to Albert Hirschman's seminal thesis on exit, voice and loyalty. This lens is used to interrogate the exercise of democratic consolidation and local governance in a context where elected politicians and local bureaucrats are obliged to coordinate their activities with hereditary leaders whose authority rests on royal blood or appointment.

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