Local Government and Provincial Policy Review: Community participation and empowerment within the realm of local governance in South Africa

Terence Smith

This paper is about community participation and empowerment in the context of local governance in South Africa. Almost a decade on since the 1998 White Paper on Local Government first defined the vision and aspirations for local governance in the country, it is an apt moment to examine this theme. That local governance should be participatory, that is, that it should go deeper than representative democracy, is a central pivot of the notion of developmental local government described in the White Paper. Beyond merely voting in elections every five years, citizens should be involved in their own governance on a more sustained basis, through a range of participatory mechanisms, processes and structures.

The paper starts by setting out a conceptual grounding for the analysis of the South African situation. It then describes the policy, legislative and institutional context for community participation and empowerment, focusing on the White Paper on Local Government‟s vision. The next section provides a review of practice publication of the White Paper in 1998. Finally, the paper ends by setting out some of the key implications for future practice, policy and further research.

The central argument of the paper is that the largely absent and unproblematised theoretical grounding of participatory local governance in the 1998 White Paper gave rise to a legally entrenched, generally technocratic and procedural practice of citizen participation in local governance, which has been confined to a narrowly prescribed set of structures and processes, to the exclusion of a more open and inclusionary practice of citizen participation.

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