South Africa: Public Participation in Policy-making – A Practical Examination
By Imraan Buccus
This paper seeks to look at whether new democratic spaces can be crafted to enable marginalised groups to engage with policy processes from an empowered position. In the context of the research that informs this paper, ‘new democratic spaces’ are opportunities created for civil society stakeholders to engage in the policy-making process, in ways that seek to overcome obstacles to participation by marginalised groups. Public participation has indeed been a foreign concept in apartheid South Africa, where public participation was not provided for and people simply had to abide by the brutality of apartheid’s laws. Viewed in this context, South Africa has made enormous strides towards effective public participation.
South Africa has clear constitutional and legislative provisions for community participation in governance, leaving no doubt as to the existence of extraordinary political commitment to notions of participatory governance (Constitution of the Republic of South Africa; Municipal Systems Act). However, there are some significant challenges for participation in policy processes. These include design, capacity and resource gaps impacting on the effectiveness of measures put in place.
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Another challenge faced is that of the political system of proportional representation. The selection of representatives from party electoral lists undermines the notion of citizen representation, with representatives allocated to constituency areas that they must then service. This system is not sufficient to ensure that citizens’ needs and interests are incorporated in policy-making, with many arguing that elected representatives owe greater allegiance to the political parties who include them in party lists, than to the electorate, who can only vote for parties and not individuals.