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The transformation of local government in Kwazulu-Natal.

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Many African countries have embarked in the process of decentralising the decision making process to local bodies. Decentralisation is an ambitious and a difficult goal for countries such as African ones, that suffer from a lack of resources and a tradition of dirigism or centralism. In the context of the current African State crisis, devolution of power to elected bodies closer to people (decentralisation) is considered to be one of the answers, which can promote democracy, increase the legitimacy of the State and bring development. Decentralisation in South Africa is all the more interesting because what is at stake there , is the rehabilitation of the State and the creation of a South African identity through a democratic praxis. Because of apartheid, South Africa has been a puzzle of territories and identities. The State apparatus with all its bodies (including the other spheres) has to make out of each South African a South African citizen . It is at the local level where problems are concrete and where communities are divided because they belong to a specific area. It is at the local level that a South African citizenry will emerge (or not), through the consciousness of the inter-dependence which exists between the groups. So, studying the decentralisation process in the 90s in South Africa, is looking at a country trying to (re)invent by itself; new ways of creating a nation , a citizenship, a sense of common belonging, through economic development, symbols; popular participation etc. In KwaZulu-Natal, the extent of the transformation of local government during the past 6 years has been impressive. New territories, new councillors, new organisation of the bureaucracy, new consultation processes and an emphasis on the disadvantaged, all these are necessary conditions to address global needs and create a sense of local citizenry. But in practice, there is always a limit to the capacity of adaptation of minds and systems to novelty. After 6 years of turmoil , one can reasonably say that the framework is set up but that councillors and officials have still to find their place in the system. They have to define their respective roles. But what is even more important, they have to integrate the " revolutionary" meaning of decentralisation and try to apply their minds to changing the structures they are heading in order to enable significant interactions with the population, a coherent development of their jurisdiction and their hinterland and an identity which goes beyond divided interests. Besides, local councillors have to become real sources of authority and have the courage to find their place amidst other spheres of government, competing powers and people who have technical knowledge. They have to frame strong policies backed by their constituencies. If not, local government will only become a place where conflicting interests reconcile, and not a source of power on its own. But maybe this will be demanding enough, although the process will be more akin to a new power relationship inside the same system with the same rules, than a revolutionary process.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of Natal, Durban, 2000.


Local government--Kwazulu Natal., Theses--Development studies.