Not waiting for Jackie O: lessons for public participation advocacy in South Africa

02 May 2013

This article explores the significance of an important event, namely, the Pioneers of Participation workshop held in November 2009 in Cape Town, for public participation advocacy in South Africa. By tracing the shifting consciousness of one participant, a key provincial official (Jackie O whose name has been changed), the article shows both how such events can change mindsets to create better informed, better inspired and more connected advocates for public participation, and that this transformation is not necessarily permanent. Hence, it is argued that events like the Pioneers workshop are best located in a broader advocacy strategy appropriate to the particular context of state-society relations. In South Africa’s case it is argued that this strategy ought to focus on the twin objectives of policy reform – both to make formal participatory spaces more inclusive, democratic and empowered and to support the emergence of independent, popularly rooted yet technically competent civil society formations that are capable of mediating both popular needs and the policy system. How these objectives ought to be realised is an open question, but it is clear that events like the Pioneers workshop can be a galvanising and mindset changing resource in this broader strategy.