Traditional leaders have a formal role in South Africa's post-apartheid local government and, in some cities in the country-notably in KwaZulu-Natal-their presence has presented some important political challenges. This paper explores the relationship between longstanding institutional arrangements which support chiefdoms and traditional authority control over land and development, and the emerging democratic local government in the municipality of eThekwini, which covers the Greater Durban Region. Partly a response to a situation of entrenched conflict, the inclusion of amakhosi, or traditional leaders, in local governance structures varies across different areas in the city. The potential for competition between elected councillors and amakhosi remains high and there are on-going disputes about their roles. Municipal spending has been directed to encouraging the participation of amakhosi in the formal systems of local government and, in places, the amakhosi themselves have been significant agents of urban development. The continuing popular support for traditional leaders is explored and the consequences of this for both democracy and for development are considered. The paper suggests that hybrid forms of political identity, incorporating both formal democracies and lively traditions, are emerging and suggests that urban political culture and institutions have been transformed not only at the ballot box or through development processes, but through actions, beliefs and practices of residents.