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Making Popular Participation Real

African and International Experiences


Edited By György Széll and Dasarath Chetty

The onset of democracy in South Africa provided South Africans with the opportunity to build a truly democratic, non-racial, non-sexist society in which there would be opportunity for all to make material, social and intellectual progress. This vision was enshrined in a Constitution intent on deepening democracy by treating people with dignity and ensuring that democratic participation was not restricted to a trip to the voting booth once every five years. To give democracy real meaning, the Constitution declared that municipalities, in particular, must facilitate public participation for true legitimacy in its development endeavours. Various mechanisms have been put in place to achieve this objective, but the process has not been without its impediments and difficulties. This book reviews the context, approaches and challenges to the public participation process using international comparisons.

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Public Participation: A Conceptual Overview


Dasarath Chetty and Kwame Owusu-Ampomah

Abstract: The chapter presents an overview of the concept of public participation reflecting on its historical origins and in the South African context why it was intended to be a countervailing tendency to the authoritarianism of the Apartheid state. Definitions of the concept are reviewed together with the benefits and risks involved in public participation initiatives. The South African Constitution affirms the moral and legal guarantees for representative and participatory democracy by emphasising public participation processes as one of the means to correct the inequities of the past, overcome exclusionary governance and the politics of accumulation by dispossession and humiliation, but also to provide a legislative framework for the social, economic and political reconstruction of the country.

Over the past century public participation has become integral to community development, oscillating in intensity and meaning up to the 1980s. Since the 1990s the phenomenon has featured prominently in discourse on development and the democratic order. There has also been an exponential growth in the volume of literature on the theory and practice of public participation, addressing the issues of who should be involved and in what way, when, where, why and to what degree.

The increasing legitimation of public participation is concomitant with declining patterns of citizen participation in the Global North (Gaventa, 2007), diminishing trust in government, (King, Feltey and Susel, 1998) and dysfunctional traditional representative democracy (Cooper, Coote, Davies and Jackson, 1995; McBride, 2005). In the Global South...

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