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Back | Programme Area: Governance (2000 - 2009)

"Living for the Sake of Living": Partnerships between the Poor and Local Government in Johannesburg

South Africa’s democracy, brought about through grassroots mobilization, is just a decade old. The struggle against apartheid mobilized hundreds of thousands of South Africans not simply around the political goals of freedom and equality, but around their exclusion from decision making and service delivery at the local level. Civic associations, which played a prominent role in the 1980s, mobilized people around slogans such as “one city, one tax base”, and used consumer and service payment boycotts to force local authorities and businesses to negotiate around service delivery. Freedom, equality and the end of apartheid were obviously the primary goals, but they were undergirded by community struggles around participation in local development.

Apartheid ended as a result of negotiation rather than an overthrow of the incumbent regime; as a result, a host of concessions had to be made to both the ruling regime and to local and international capital. Dramatic redistribution of wealth was impossible for a host of reasons. As a result, the African National Congress and its allies, which formed the government after 1994, had to adopt a long-term view in which redistribution and growth could occur simultaneously, requiring a national framework that would guide investment on the basis of equity. But partnerships rely on communities having the space and resources to generate and pursue their own ideas and goals. This requires the state to manage a balancing act between ensuring that its policy goals inform development and simultaneously make space for people-driven development.

Following the end of apartheid, the racially demarcated landscape was reshaped into nine provinces and, in 1995, into 843 elected transitional units in the local sphere. The first full democratic local elections were held in 2000, after the Municipal Demarcation Board consolidated the local sphere into 284 local government units, comprising six metropolitan municipalities, 47 district municipalities and 231 local municipalities. Put simply, intergovernmental relations are just 10 years old in South Africa, and the local sphere—the rock face of delivery and community partici­pation—barely a toddler.

The context for examining partnerships between organizations for the poor and local government is an evolving and changing one. The governance model is being developed, and civil society is changing as well. South Africa has a rich and diverse non-profit sector, with an operating expenditure of R9.3 billion in 1998. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) played a key role in the anti-apartheid struggle, and although their relative importance has declined since 1994, the non-profit sector as a whole remains a defining feature of South African society.

In this paper, David Everatt, Graeme Gotz and Ross Jennings focus on two areas: (i) the Johannesburg inner city; and (ii) Tladi-Moletsane, a suburb of Soweto. The City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality oversees the largest number of residents of any municipality in Gauteng province. Poverty indicators show that the constituency of this area includes both affluent, well-serviced communities and impoverished, disadvantaged communities. While the existing levels and quality of service delivery need to be maintained, the real challenges lie in the extension of services and infrastructure to all residents of Johannesburg.

In meeting these challenges, the Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality is guided by national legislation as well as local dynamics. In particular, fiscal constraints at the local level have led city authorities to adopt an approach that is cognizant of the need for democratic, participatory governance, but is primarily concerned with generating economic growth.

The question is whether this approach is workable. Are there inherent tensions or contradic­tions in the application of an approach that is underpinned by participatory principles, while at the same time being governed by an economic bottom line?

Local government is located at the centre of government’s rural and urban development strategies. Partnerships between the poor and their structures, on one hand, and local government, on the other, are as fundamental for “developmental local government” at a theoretical level as integrated development plans—required of all local authorities—are at a practical level. The policy terrain has never been more conducive for local-level partnerships.

On the ground in Tladi-Moletsane, however, the situation is very different. Politics and activism have come to be seen as avenues for the ambitious, and not mechanisms for effecting change. Disinterest and apathy are widespread. Politics is still dominated by a golden clique of more affluent residents; but even here there are problems, with fewer affluent people actively involved in local affairs.

Class differences are reflected in local organizations. The formal areas have a local civic association, which barely relates to and does not actively support the civic associations set up by those living in the Tladi informal settlement. The local councillor replicates these differences, having a warm relationship with local businesses and using a junior staff member to tour the formal areas, but bypassing the informal settlement.

Ten years of democracy provided some tangible benefits to the residents of Tladi-Moletsane: shared taps and toilets for the informal settlement; houses and tarred roads for residents of the formal areas. Expectations were probably unrealistic, and some observers may be correct in detecting more continuity than change from “urban apartheid” to “postapartheid”. Either way, the general attitude in Tladi-Moletsane is despondent.

There is some evidence of local action by small local community-based organizations (CBOs) and concerned individuals. Formerly prominent structures such as the local civic association have faded into the background or closed down; and there is some evidence that local government structures are seen as a tool for leveraging change. The Tladi informal settlement dwellers, for example, established their own ward committee to concentrate on water, sewerage and electrification. While sceptical about their chances of success, it is important that they are trying to use the mechanisms made available to them as part of democratizing local government. The authors of this paper found no evidence of partnerships with larger CBOs or NGOs, nor with the council. The policy terrain may be favourable, but a great deal of grassroots mobilization and education is urgently required if policy is to translate into substantive and sustainable reality.

By contrast, in the authors’ Johannesburg inner city case study, we see how the declining fortunes of city-community partnerships illustrate how the shifts in city management and community organization impact the prospects of future partnerships. A rapidly changing economic and social environment has put pressure on the city authorities to manage the inner city in ways less conducive to partnerships, as well as on conventional voluntary sector initiatives and or­ganizations that, in the increasingly contested, fluid and inscrutable inner city, have little incentive to function as voluntary groups have in the past.

According to the authors, the future of partnerships appears gloomy, and they argue that it is difficult to predict the impact that further changes in the inner city may have in making future partner­ships more meaningful and viable. Presently, the most successful partnerships seem to be project-based and focused on specific geographic locations, involving government-facilitated opportunities for existing organizations with defined mandates to provide new services to their communities.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 1 Dec 2004
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1020-8186
    From: UNRISD/UN Publications