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


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.

Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is the Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Rhodes University and the University of Johannesburg. He is a political scientist who has specialized in the study of democracy. During the 1980s, he produced a series of studies of reform apartheid and its implications for a democratic future. Friedman has researched and wrote widely on the South African transition to democracy both before and after the elections of 1994 and has, over the past decade, largely written on the relationship between democracy on the one hand, social inequality and economic growth on the other. In particular, he has stressed the role of citizen voice in strengthening democracy and promoting equality.

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


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.

Carolyn Bassett

Carolyn Bassett is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science and Director, International Development Studies Program at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, Canada. She has researched South African politics for more than 25 years, focusing on policy processes and the role of civil society, especially trade unions. Her work has been published in Review of African Political Economy, Third World Quarterly, Journal of Contemporary African Studies and other journals, and she is currently working on a book on COSATU and the policy process in South Africa.

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.

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.

Imraan Buccus

Imraan Buccus is a Senior Research Associate at ASRI. He is also the academic director of a university study abroad program on political transformation and concurrently a Research Fellow in the School of Social Sciences at UKZN, and the editor of Al Qalam. Buccus is the former editor of Critical Dialogue, a journal of Public Participation in review, he co-authored the National Framework on Public Participation for the South African government. During his time at the Centre for Public Participation, he led an initiative to bring policy making spaces closer to ordinary people and also led a project to assess the state of participatory democracy in Namibia. He has wide ranging experience working with various donor agencies including the Ford Foundation, NiZA, EU, Kellogg Foundation and the Open Society Foundation. In the early 2000’s Buccus worked as academic coordinator of the Workers College, a progressive experiential education college for workers from the trade union movement, where he developed a passion for experiential education and its personal and academic developmental potential. Imraan is also widely published, in academic journals and book chapters, in the area of participatory democracy, poverty and civil society.