The impact of LED conceptualization on the current implementation: A case study of Ugu district.
Local economic development (LED) has been in existence for decades. In South Africa the concept received momentum immediately after the first democratic elections in 1994. It was soon conceived as a mechanism for addressing social and economic ills such as unemployment, poverty and declining economic activity, particularly in small towns. In order to accelerate LED given its urgency, in 1998, the government introduced and subsequently promulgated the White Paper on Local Government, which mainly sought to advance the notion of a developmental state, and LED was central to that. Later in 2006 a proper LED Framework was adopted, which had as its main objective, to guide LED implementation. Up until the present time, LED implementation has not been a resounding success. Many studies have focused on implementation and challenges thereof. However, focusing on implementation alone may not be adequate. In order to bridge that gap, this particular study specifically focuses on LED conceptualization in order to assess the correlation between conceptualization and implementation outcomes. The area of the study was Ugu district in the lower south coast of the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. Immediately after the first democratic elections in 1994, local economic development as a concept gained momentum. LED conceptualization was mainly centred on LED planning, which as empirical evidence has suggested, did not provide the anticipated success in terms of implementation results. Further, LED planning in South Africa focused mainly on a market-led approach, which is largely premised on pro-growth as opposed to the market-critical approach which draws much input on the pro-poor thinking in terms of both conceptualization and implementation of LED-focused initiatives. This study therefore sought to build from that proclamation. The assertion is that LED planning has become obsolete. The proposed approach was the adoption and conceiving of the dynamic complexity approach, which is mainly centred on self-organization of the system of which LED is one such sub-system. The affirmation is that, LED is neither a static nor a fixed phenomenon. It involves continuous evolution and co-evolution of agents such as banks, entrepreneurs, government etc., within the system which therefore becomes a never ending process. During such process of evolution and coevolution, new order emerges, which can be identified as an outcome-based local economic development. From the study’s findings, indications are that LED conceptualization indeed plays a significant part in shaping implementation outcomes, and indeed outcome-based LED. This conclusion is based on five (5) critical areas which were covered in the study, namely project implementation rationale, comprehension of local economic development, funding for local economic development, roleplaying by diverse LED stakeholders and complexity of local economic development. For example, the findings and analysis shows that many LED-focused interventions were implemented without proper conceptual assessments having been done, which led to ill-informed implementation and therefore poor results. Further, the comprehension of LED as a programme is also a problematic area. Due to diverse stakeholders whose interests are not necessarily the same, LED is viewed differently, which also has a direct implication in as far as co-operation and roleplaying by LED stakeholders is concerned, which further causes challenges in terms of implementation. Lastly, the final assertion is that LED is a complex phenomenon. However, in terms of the findings, this assertion is not observed by all stakeholders, which again is a conceptual matter. Adversely and perhaps as expected, LED facilitation and implementation is a problematic area within the Ugu region. The direct implication is that LED’s conceptualization needs to be revised, and in the process all stakeholders must internalize and advocate for emergence-based local economic development.