Public participation through ward committees : a case study of uMshwathi Municipality.
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During apartheid, South Africa was governed by laws which were based on the isolated development of individuals within the country. This meant that the national government was not responsible for the delivery of services and infrastructure to the black people of South Africa. Public participation was limited under the apartheid government. Most of the Blacks, Indian and Coloured people in South African had no political rights and were restricted from participating in the processes of government. The apartheid government wanted to steer the interactions between the state, the market and civil society to best suit the welfare of the white dominant society in South Africa. Due to international pressures and the rise of civil society in the late 20th century, the apartheid government was weakened. In an attempt to address the injustices caused by apartheid, the democratic government was oriented towards finding ways to incorporate the previously disadvantaged groups within society into the decision-making processes and public participation by establishing ward committees. The study on uMshwathi municipality reveals that ward committees are the essential lubricant for public participation but there are challenges that need attention. The study on uMshwathi shows that ward committees have potential to enhance responsiveness of local government. The aim of the study is to investigate the functioning of ward committees in the uMshwathi municipality. The study looks at the issues related to their functioning and to community participation within ward committees with reference to uMshwathi municipality. It explores the conceptualisations of public participation by uMshwathi municipality. It also analyses the organisational structures and institutional mechanisms used by municipalities to promote public participation through ward committees. The researcher collected primary data through focus group discussions and structured in-depth interviews. Three focus group discussions were conducted with the ward committee members of uMshwathi municipality. A total of 24 members participated in these. Four in-depth interviews were conducted: three interviews were conducted with the uMshwathi municipality councillors and one interview was conducted with the uMshwathi municipality official who is responsible for the public participation unit. Secondary data was gathered from published research studies on public participation and ward committees in South Africa. Key points were emphasised through identifying and recording patterns from the presented data. This study used themes such as the conceptualisations of public participation; democracy and participatory governance; challenges of ward committee members; and successes of ward committees.