This dissertation is an assessment of the African National Congress’s (ANC) approach to local participatory governance in post-apartheid South Africa. It examines public participation policies and the extent to which they have been implemented and secured participation by citizens at the local level. Since South Africa is a dominant one-party democracy, the ANC’s politics affect public participation and thus its policies and the actions of those it deploys in government is examined. This research, therefore, explores and describes the nature of, and challenges related to public participation in, local government in South Africa and what those say about the commitment and approach of the ANC government to local participatory governance.
This study uses Smith’s (2009) approach to analysing the democratic goods or qualities of participatory designs used in two of the ANC national government’s local democratic innovations: ward committees and the integrated development plans (IDP) process. These two designs are part of the invited spaces of participation. The ANC and the state’s response to invented spaces of participation is also examined in this thesis. These are those spaces that are initiated by civil society groups themselves and are characterised by confrontation towards authorities and the activities of their grassroots in challenging the status quo and resisting dominant power relations in the hope of larger societal change. This assesses these through a case study of municipal level dynamics around these two schemes in the Boland Region.
The study finds that the ANC’s stated intention of allowing for broader public participation is not always fulfilled. However, despite this failure, the ANC remains an electorally effective machine because the South African majority continues to prize the anticipated socio-economic benefits of democracy to what they perceive as abstract political rights. Furthermore, ANC support for public participation is conditional on it not threatening the party’s hegemony. Additionally, it is found that there is a knowledge and commitment gap to participation between ANC public representatives at different state levels. Even where the ANC is sincere in wishing to delegate more power to the local level, the perception of a corrupt and ineffective local state deters ANC national leaders devolving more power. In the midst of all this are some community leaders who exploit attempts at involving the public for their own personal objectives.