New spaces for participation in South African local government.
Govender, Jayanathan Perumal.
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The study is a monograph on participation in local government in South Africa. Participation is framed within the theoretical perspectives of representative democracy and its off-shoot, deliberative democracy. The research draws from three conceptual aspects: the main theories of democracy and participation contemplating the local sphere of government; the policy framework staging the interactions between the key participants, namely, local government and civil society formations; and the institutional spaces, values and attitudes involved therein. The problematique of the research in terms of the three conceptual aspects are: to show that representative democracy has declined in favour of participation praxis; to assess policy coherence for effective participation at the local sphere; and to examine the accommodation of new participative spaces. To this end, the research undertook an extensive literature review and an empirical study of the eThekwini Municipal Area, in the Province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The literature review indicated three learnings. Firstly, there was a decline in representative democracy, with decreasing emphasis on the electoral mode of politics. Rather, the tendency shifted towards supplementation with forms of public participation. Public participation and engagement developed into an off-shoot of representative democracy, now known pervasively as deliberative democracy and discursive democracy. The basis of these new democratic approaches means that citizens ought to have a hand in, and influence public decisions. Secondly, participation has taken new democratic forms that could be viewed alternatively as space; dialogue and deliberation; rights; development; decentralization; and accountability. Thirdly, new spaces for participation could be viewed in the form of political society and social capital vis-a-vis international agreements; poverty eradication; public administration; and the combined import of administrative law and judicial review. In terms of the aims of the study, the work revealed that the participatory framework is based upon extensive theoretical and policy understandings. Participation is adequately captured in constitutional and legislative instruments in South Africa. The Draft National Policy Framework for Public Participation, 2005 is a concrete outcome of South African local government preparedness to engage in meaningful participative discourse and praxis. In terms of the research problems of the study, the work concluded the following: • there is agreement on the part of stakeholders for engagement in parallel representative and participative forms of governance; • local government participative policy appears sound but there is a need for convergent understanding on the part of the different participants, namely, municipal councillors; community stakeholders; and actors within the municipality; and • there is evidence of contrasting debates on aspects of participatory praxis, but on the whole, participants have taken a knowledgeable and practical approach to new spaces for participation. The study makes six recommendations: •Brief and consult councillors, community stakeholders, and municipal actors on the findings of the study. (This exercise will serve two purposes, namely, to verify the findings of the study; and to develop a concrete programme for participation in the eThekwini Municipal Area, including a code of best practice). •Develop a capacity building programme on judicial review for the three categories of stakeholders, namely, municipal councillors, municipal officials, and community stakeholders. •Undertake further research on democratic participative forms at the local government level with particular focus on effective praxis through administrative justice. •Initiate developmental programmes and case studies based upon participation praxis to address the most acute problems experienced by select local communities in the eThekwini Municipal Area. •Make input into the review of provincial and local government policy processes initiated by the South African government and co-ordinated by the Department of Provincial and Local Government. • Triangulate and establish the theoretical relationships of participation, democracy and governance. The conclusions of the study reflect positively on the ideational foundations of participation and willingness of stakeholders to adopt new forms of discursive politics. The six recommendations of the work can serve to advance research and policy planning in the local government sphere in South Africa.