The place of participation in a democratising South Africa

Decentralisation, ward councillors and civil society in post apartheid cities

20-21 November 2006
University of the Witwatersrand, JHB


Flowing from a research programme on political participation and local democracy, supported by IFAS through the transversal programme “Democratic Transformations in emerging countries”, a two-day colloquium on “The place of participation in a democratising South Africa: decentralisation, ward councillors and civil society in post apartheid cities”, was held on the 20th and 21st November in Johannesburg. The colloquium was organised by Claire Bénit-Gbaffou and Christine Fauvelle-Aymar through a partnership between the Human Science Research Council (HSRC), IFAS and the Centre for Urban and Built Environment Studies (CUBES) of Wits University.

The colloquium enabled the IFAS-HSRC research team to discuss their initial results and methods with other researchers, and also to engage with the local elected representatives, NGOs and the general public. The attention is turned to local government at a time when the political context is dominated by the ANC, making local government, as well as the other forms of civil society participation, crucial for the promotion of debate and discussion around the urban politics of the ANC. In addition, it seems as if the South African councillors realize more and more their responsibility for service provision and the obligation to give account to residents, even though they have limited powers. From this perspective, three themes were taken into consideration: Is the local level an efficient scale for political opposition/for debates around urban policies and projects?; What are the meaning of local participation for urban residents?; What are the meanings of the ward territory? The colloquium questioned the different routes to follow – institutional / formal or not – enabling residents to take part in urban governance in post-apartheid cities. Particular attention was given to ward councillors and their relationships with their municipalities, political parties and their electoral constituency; but also to the role and influence of initiatives by social mouvements or resident groups in local government.