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Democracy, Governance and Human Rights Programme Paper 16: “Living for the Sake of Living”: Partnerships between the Poor and Local Government in Johannesburg

13 May 2005

  • Authors: David Everatt, Graeme Gotz and Ross Jennings


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.

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, the authors 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.

David Everatt and Ross Jennings are partners in Strategy and Tactics, a development research agency based in South Africa. Graeme Gotz is an independent researcher and consultant.

Order DGHRPP 16 from UNRISD (US$ 12 for readers in industrialized countries and US$ 6 for readers in developing and transitional countries and for students).