A study of public consultation in the environmental management framework (EMF) process : a case study of the rural voice in the iLembe EMF.
With South Africa’s democracy came the introduction of developmental local government, however, shortfalls of democracy in public engagement do exist despite the role of civil society (as advocated by the South African Constitution) being vital to check on the exercise of state power. Many municipal and metropolitan municipalities in South Africa lack the institutional capacity to carry out effective environmental planning. Various cases in the history of South Africa display attempts by government to extend the grid of formalised or regulated development over areas termed ‘informal.’ These cases pay testament to the biased nature of planning toward urban communities. In instances where these informal sector groups are able to put across their views, those of the urban elites are often prioritized. In South Africa the consultative process often takes the “decide and defend” approach rather than an open and participatory one. The extent thereof forms the motivation for this study, particularly with regard to the prevalent dismissal of the knowledge of the rural communities in the consultative process. The study focuses on the gap in the public consultation process in South African environmental planning through the case study of the iLembe Environmental Management Framework (EMF), located in KwaZulu-Natal. The aim of the research is to examine the public consultation undertaken in the EMF process, with particular focus on rural concerns and perspectives using the iLembe EMF as a case study. The objectives of the research were to examine the mechanisms of public consultation of the EMF using the iLembe EMF case study; to analyse to what extent rural communities of the geographical area applicable to the EMF are given the opportunity to voice their concerns or opinions or local knowledge, to examine to which extent community needs and concerns are reflected in the EMF, to interpret local awareness and views of environmental planning with a specific focus on the EMF tool and to forward recommendations for improved public participation in rural areas in relation to the EMF. The study undertakes a case study approach of the EMF for the iLembe District Municipality (IDM), with a focus on the processes for creating awareness and public participation in a community within the Ndwedwe Local Municipality (NLM). The case study communities were selected as being a representative of rural communities of the iLembe district. Household questionnaires were completed by 400 respondents. KIIs were conducted with relevant stakeholders such as the officials in the iLembe district, interested and affected parties who partook in the EMF process and the team of professionals involved in the roll out of the EMF, with the objective of ascertaining the strategic process followed in public consultation and the methods commonly used. Both quantitative and qualitative methods were used in data collection for this study. The key finding of the research is that the level of public consultation as reflected in that of the iLembe EMF is insufficient for environmental planning through the application of the EMF tool in South Africa. It is difficult to state whether modernist planning approaches leads to sustainability from the outcomes of this study, but it is evident that despite the modernist planning approaches aiming to move from technocratic stance to a more inclusive and consultative one, the theory does not seem to meet practice. This study recommends tasks to be undertaken to overcome language barriers, to overcome the barrier posed by use of jargon, to increase transparency and information sharing, to rectify the absence of key personnel at meetings, to rectify poor attendance at public meetings and to undertake a strategic approach to public participation. While this research explains the mechanisms for public consultation employed in the EMF, it would be interesting to determine the exact cause for decreased effectiveness in the methods of public participation with a focus placed on how and why there is a disjuncture between South Africa’s sound legislation and what takes place in practice.
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