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Country analysis > South Africa Last update: 2008-12-17  

The depth and quality of public participation in the IDP process in Gauteng

Hein Marais, David Everatt and Nobayethi Dube

Strategy and Tactics

October 2007

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Introduction and overview

This report was commissioned to examine the depth of public participation in the IDP process and its impact if any on decision-making within the IDP process. The study was not an audit or even an evaluation of all IDP-related public participation in Gauteng. Rather, we used qualitative methods and a small sample of wards and municipalities (selected with the Gauteng Provincial Department of local Government) to get under the skin of specific local areas, in order to better understand the dynamics that facilitate or hinder participation; and then trace the impact (if any) of that participation on the IDP as it makes its way through the bureaucracy.

Readers need therefore to be as clear about what the report is as is not: it is a qualitative study of participation and its impact on officials in a set of sampled sites, but is not a provincial audit of best practice in participation. Readers should also be very clear that a great deal of work – good and bad, creative and mundane – has been undertaken since 1994, by all spheres of government, to try and realise in practice the fact that the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), by focusing on people’s “most immediate needs” therefore
    “relies … on their energies to drive the process of meeting those needs…. Development is not about the delivery of goods to a passive citizenry. It is about active involvement and growing empowerment”.1
In the following pages and in the attached critical review of literature, many of the participation experiments are examined, as is the literature that has subjected them to critical review. There is a further (substantial) body of literature that documents participation, though without critical review.

But what matters is the latter part of the quotation from the RDP; it is critical to the approach adopted in this study. Participation, in the RDP (which in turn informed the White Paper on Local Government and other legislation including Municipal Systems Act and Municipal Structures Act), is not about getting a local stamp of approval for decisions taken ‘on high’. Nor is it merely about generating a wish-list of local needs, despite the fact that the RDP itself adopted a basic needs approach to the postapartheid development project. Participation is about empowerment.

This is critical because to meet our ToR – to analyse the depth of participation and its resultant impact – we need to know the purpose of participation. And as we show below, this is far from clear within the Gauteng bureaucracy, or among Gauteng’s citizens. But if we take ‘empowerment’ as the ultimate goal of participation – thin this, the RDP drew on Arnstein’s seminal work on participation, that placed citizen power (a 1960s linguistic proxy for our later empowerment) at the apex2 - then we have criteria against which we can judge the situation today.

Full participation is broader than IDP-related activities. As we argue below, participation requires a re-thinking of the ways in which state and citizen engage one another, and the transfer of decision-making power and resource allocation decisions from state to citizens. That way lies empowerment – for the bureaucracy as much as for citizens – and many of the participation opportunities already in existence would be vastly reenergised if re-positioned with this understanding of empowerment as their goal. We should also recall that participation is about better serving the needs of the public, not those of the public service. This is the perspective needed to engage with participation as emancipation rather than serving up legitimation for state procedures.

Since 1994, the responsibilities and expectations vested in local government have multiplied. Among the key changes has been a widening of the focus from service delivery to include long-term strategic objectives such as poverty reduction, social and economic development, and the greater importance accorded to citizen participation in those activities. Informed by the Constitution, the White Paper on Local Government (1998) laid a strong foundation for the establishment of pro-poor developmental local government, with strong citizen participation a central element. That framework and a subsequent legislative package has ushered in a system of local government that is intended to turn on an interactive relationship with communities.

The cornerstone for much of the current national development project is demand-driven development, which – properly facilitated – should engender greater local ownership and on-going maintenance of development delivery. In other words, it is fundamental to sustainability – not merely of this or that asset, such as a water scheme or a housing development or park, but of the local development strategy itself. As the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) noted,
    “No political democracy can survive and flourish if the mass of our people remain in poverty…. Development is not about the delivery of goods to a passive citizenry. It is about active involvement and growing empowerment. In taking this approach [i.e. ‘A People-Driven Process’] we are building on the many forums, peace structures and negotiations that our people are involved in throughout the land”.3
As we noted above, a great deal of work has been done to try and find ways of harnessing local energy via public participation. Some are analysed here, others in the critical review of literature, and the latter’s bibliography provides the reader with guidance for further reading. The Integrated Development Plan (IDP) has a critical place in government’s on-going attempt to realise this vision in practice, as a key mechanism for hearing local voices, engaging local energies, and – ideally – aligning budgets and delivery decisions with local needs, rather than the other way round.

But this takes place in the context of on-going poverty for many and an inevitable clash of understandings and expectations, where demand and expectations are high, budgets limited, and IDPs subject to the normal rules and processes of resource allocation and decision-making. Local officials talk of IDPs as a strategy rather than a document - as a strategic approach to policy-making in a local area – but many IDPs are ‘wish-lists’ that annually reiterate the basic services needed by poor communities. There is a discourse disconnect between what many (but not all) officials want in terms of inputs to the IDP as a local governance strategy, and what local citizens see as the point of participating, namely to ensure service delivery in their locale. The disconnect needs repairing to maintain and grow participation; and the repair kit takes the form of a shared understanding of the why of participation (empowerment) rather than on-going experimentation and tinkering with the how.

So while local communities – either as individuals or (less commonly) via locally representative organisations – approach IDP meetings to ask for the street-lights or housing or sewerage system they need, and often leave expecting delivery to follow naturally (and speedily) as a result, planners complain that no strategic value add is occurring through participation in IDPs. As one IDP co-ordinator noted,
    I think through experience I have seen that every year you get similar needs that are just actually more of the same thing. And they’re just on the side unaffordability, that the municipality can only afford so much, capital and operational expenses in order to be sustainable in a medium to long term. The municipalities cannot keep up with the rate at which new needs are being registered each year. The second problem is the fact that proper needs can only be addressed after two or three years after being registered. So it’s not possible that in most cases the needs of the communities are addressed immediately. I think the fact that there’s no immediate response from the municipality may have caused disillusion. (IDP co-ordinator)
We should be clear from the outset that facilitating public participation in IDPs is an ongoing process, but one that needs to be better understood than perhaps is the case at the moment, both in the public service and in communities. Expectations differ, understandings of both the purpose of both participation and IDPs differ, snap judgements (of what constitute ‘proper’ needs, of uncaring officials, and so on) are common, political analyses (of who does what for whom and why) abound – these cannot be pared away from public participation in the IDP process, but are fundamental to it. They make participation messy and complex – but remind us of the centrality of context to participation.

Moreover, these relationships and interactions occur in a situation where the state and civil society have a mutually ambivalent attitude to and relationship with one another. South Africa entered democracy with an enviable civil society that was organised, energetic, skilled, and supportive of the post-apartheid project. The brief consensus over the RDP inevitably broke, as is so many transitional societies; but from the perspective of this study, it is worrying that civil society – in non-governmental (NGO) or community-based (CBO) form - is so absent from the IDP process, a point we return to below.

This is compounded by local political hostilities. It is made more complex by the fact that public participation takes many forms, and has many options – of which the IDP is but one. The fact that the IDP is valorised in legislation and in the development project of the state does not mean that this is automatically accepted by local residents or their organisations. Participation has various avenues open to it - ranging from a protest march to organising a petition to phoning or visiting councillors to organising via civics, resident’s associations and so on. Moreover, many local residents know full well (as officials frequently admitted to us off the record) that direct action today will be followed up by MECs or Mayors tomorrow, and can produce results faster than the slow processes around IDP development. This is a fact of life, not a judgement of one as more efficacious than another.

The political tensions noted earlier also spill over into the institutional mix that surrounds and supports IDPs, including ward committees, councillors, community development workers (CDWs), Speaker and Mayoral offices, and the like. As we show below, political tensions morph and adapt to suit local contexts, and can be variously party political, racial, and so on. And the limits of IDP participation are most evident from the perspective of councillors. It is they who are frequently held accountable for non-delivery by IDPs – even though they may have had no say whatsoever in the attendant decisions.

So any attempt to understand both public participation and its relationship with the Integrated Development Plan process must be sensitive to very different processes and discourses in which they are embedded. This is not a technical process of planning and budgeting; and it is not about mobilisation, or lobbying and advocacy; nor is it about a clash between a particular growth path and the needs of the poor. It is about all of these, and more. Analysing local participation in IDPs is less a technical or evaluative action and more like taking a dip-stick measurement of local dynamics and contexts and the health of a range of social and political players at local level.

Finally, drawing this overview together, we end the report by suggesting the parameters for piloting new approaches to participation. At the heart of the recommendation is the need to move beyond the current situation, where participation is predominantly about legitimating state decisions reflected in IDPs, and allowing those decisions to be taken by citizens themselves. This will require a new kind of public servant – one with many of the attributes of civic activists of the 1980s, who could organise communities around key local concerns, explain their various interconnections, and mobilise participation across widely different constituencies. It will also require a more constructive engagement from CSOs, and above all will rely on risk-taking – on being prepared to make mistakes and learn by doing.

  1. African National Congress (Ravan Press, 1994) Reconstruction and Development Programme pp.4-5.
  2. Arnstein SR (1969). A ladder of citizen participation. JAIP, 35(4): 216-224. Available at
  3. Ibid.

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