engage 55

A DAY NOT SEIZED? : Citizen Activism and the New Political Reality
by Steven Friedman

(Contributor’s Bio)

Abstract
Following the recent ‘Zuma Must Fall’, anti-corruption campaigns, and the August 2016 local elections, Professor Steven Friedman in this paper argues that civil society organisations who want greater equality appear ill equipped to do so. They enter the new environment with no strategies to take advantage of it and little capacity to mobilise citizens in support of campaigns. Friedman contends that unless this changes, the new opportunities created by a changed and shifting party political landscape, is likely to be used largely by the affluent, well organised and densely connected groups who do not need to mobilise public support – which will benefit elites rather than grassroots citizens. The opportunities for civil society activism to achieve a fairer society may have never been as great – but the price of failing to make the changes needed to wield influence may never have been as high.

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An Alternative to Democratic Exclusion? The Case for Participatory Local Budgeting in South Africa
By Carolyn Bassett

(Contributor’s Bio)

Abstract
This article makes a case for transforming local governance to embrace inclusion and accountability through participatory local budgeting. South Africa’s history of experiments with participatory local governance and policy-making, which was incorporated to some extent in post-apartheid institutions of local government, implied some intention for such practices to continue. However, despite the possibility that such an approach could advance democratic accountability and result in policies that favour the needs of the poor, the African National Congress (ANC) government has pursued a centralised, technocratic approach. Needing to regroup after electoral losses in the 2016 municipal elections, will the ANC embrace participatory local budgeting, and in doing so, transform its mode of governance? Will non-ANC and the coalition governments embrace a new approach that is more responsive to local needs and demands and potentially leads to more effective governance? This article concludes by outlining concrete steps that could be taken at the national and local levels to advance participatory local governance.

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South Africa: Public Participation in Policy-making – A Practical Examination
By Imraan Buccus

(Contributor’s Bio)

Abstract

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.
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.

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