The latest in our UN Democracy Fund Consultations on Participatory Local Democracy was hosted by the Isandla Institute in Cape Town, South Africa, on the day following their own local governance meeting – “Speaking Truth to Power.” South Africa has adopted strong approaches to participatory local governance, but participants emphasized the constraints faced in implementation.
The importance of context. The consultation highlighted the need to build context into our understanding of participation and local governance in a country. South Africa’s violent history of oppression still impacts the politics of participation today. However, the context goes far beyond history. Indicators show one in nine people are infected by HIV, over 36 percent are jobless (including over 50 percent between the ages of 15-24), and inequality is entrenched leaving South Africa as one of the most unequal countries in the world. These prohibitive inequalities manifest in societies’ difficulty to accept dissent and build a distrust with both government and other groups within society.
Citizenship as Becoming. Pamela Masiko-Kambala from Isandla Institute presented on the idea of citizenship as being far beyond the idea of a person simply being a “good,” “bad,” or “becoming” citizen. Active citizenship requires learning, routine engagement, and enhancement of political savvy. The group emphasized the multiple dimensions of active citizenship including the role of citizens to demand services and engage among themselves to develop community priorities.
Capturing Nuance. The Consultation emphasized the importance of building nuance into the Scorecard. One of the suggestions includes rating levels of participation for specific groups. In most countries around the world, the question is not if a group can participate or not, but the quality of their participation. For example, women often have less say in the final policy decision then a private sector business. Additionally, the group grappled with the idea of finding ways to tell the local story of democracy. They specifically emphasized the challenges in situations of extreme inequality (such as ward councils scheduling public forums during working hours when it is impossible for working class people to participate.)
Deliberative Democracy requires give and take. The participants outlined the importance of a truly deliberative process and the prerequisites for engaging in one. Deliberation is not a criticism of what is happening. It is a process of proposals which leverages the needs of both citizens and government against each other. Deliberative democracy ensures citizen voices in governance through an inclusive decision making process where everyday citizens can shape government decisions. This gets at the core of one of the main issues facing South Africa—building trust.
Building value for the community of practice. The practioners suggested more resources for people to learn from experiences globally. Innovations and shared experiences are much needed in expanding the practice of community organizing and building citizen participation. The group suggested the presentation of case studies, interviews, and practioner experiences along with innovative tools being implemented worldwide to spur the engagement within the community of practice.
For additional information and research on South Africa please visit the Good Governance Learning Network.