Towards understanding the meaningful participation of disadvantaged communities in the Msunduzi catchment management forum.
Boakye, Maxwell Kwame.
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The participation of the public has become widely accepted through legislation as a critical component of managing water resources in South Africa. However, achieving meaningful participation continues to be a challenge especially for the previously disadvantaged communities. Participants from these communities, through legislative requirements have the opportunity to participate and make contribution in water management arena with little emphasis of their level of knowledge in understanding the information presented in the participation processes. The level of knowledge and understanding of participants has been found by Anderson (2005) and Faysse (2005) to affect meaningful participation in the water management arena. There have been, however, few empirical studies (Anderson, 2005; Faysse, 2005) to find out whether the disadvantaged community participants feel their participation in water management institutions such as the catchment management forum (CMF) is meaningful. Meaningful public participation has increasingly been used in public participation literature to describe the quality of participation process Solitare, (2005), Canadian Association of Petroleum Produces (CAPP) (2004) and Videira et al. (2003). Authors have generally avoided strictly defining the adjective ‘meaningful’ in relation to public participation. Authors have however, concentrated on attributes of the concept which includes: the ability of the participation process to meet the expectation of the participants, inclusiveness of stakeholder, trust among participants in a participation process, participation process contribution to learning of participants and opportunity for participants to improve quality of decision. The purpose of this research was to find out whether the disadvantaged community participants find their participation in the Msunduzi Catchment Management Forum (MCMF) to be meaningful. To achieve this aim, the specific objectives of the study were: • firstly, to determine whether the participation processes meet the expectations of the participants; • secondly, to determine whether the MCMF is inclusive of those having an interest in catchment management issues; • thirdly, to determine whether there is trust among participants in the participation processes; • fourthly, to determine whether participants have access to and understand appropriate and relevant information given at the forum; and • lastly, to determine whether participants are notified about the forum early and adequate time given for sharing of information in the process. A review of relevant literature on this research issues was conducted. A qualitative research approach was used to address the goals of the research, including a semistructured interview of stakeholders of the MCMF. The semi-structured interviews were conducted with participants from the disadvantaged community, industry, municipality, DWAF and members of other non-governmental organizations that are not from the disadvantaged community. The other stakeholders who are not from the disadvantaged communities were included in the studies to find out whether they are aware of the perspectives of the disadvantaged community participants on the meaningfulness of the MCMF. Another objective for including these stakeholder groups was to find out whether they share the same views as those from the disadvantaged community on the meaningfulness of the MCMF. The results from the interviews were used to determine whether participants from the disadvantaged communities find their participation in the MCMF to be meaningful. The results established five key finding from the research. Firstly, the disadvantaged community participants do not see their involvement in the MCMF to be meaningful. Secondly, the disadvantage community participants have expectations that have not yet been met. Thirdly, there is a degree of differences in relationship among stakeholders based on educational background which is affecting networking and trust building. Fourthly, the lack of understanding of the information presented at the forum by the disadvantaged community participants, and lastly improper medium and timing of notification by DWAF. These were found to be the major factors affecting disadvantaged community participants’ meaningful participation in the MCMF. This research has recommended five key means through which the MCMF public participation process can be improved which are based on the conclusions of this research. It is recommended that: 1. Expectations of participants especially those from the disadvantaged community on the functions of a catchment management forum should be addressed urgently. 2. Degree of differences that exist among some participants especially those from the disadvantaged community that educational background influence views presented by a participant should be dealt with through measures such as field trips. 3. Technical information is presented in a medium that disadvantaged community participants can understand. 4. The medium of notification used to ensure effective public participation at the MCMF be addressed. 5. DWAF evaluates the MCMF participations process to find out the level of satisfaction among participants.