South Africa’s public policy approach since 1994 has been robust and forwardlooking.
The policy process has been stretched over all areas of governance. Many
policies have been translated into law, regulations and institutions aimed explicitly
as serving the public good. The key is narrowing the gap between the institutions
of governance and people’s needs. However, despite the good intentions, public
dissatisfaction and mass protest in the local government sphere is endemic.
Mass public protest consumes public capability and is therefore wasteful and
counterproductive. The response of the authorities entering the contested space
is usually reactionary and is hardly successful in addressing the core grievances
of communities. Crucially, political representatives, that is, ward and proportional
representative councillors, are crowded out of resolution processes.
Communities argue that mass protest and the appropriation of public space is an
essential tactic of gaining the attention of the highest authorities. Most community
protests are accompanied by acts of violence. Sometimes, the presence of policing
services and/or the media exacerbates the crisis. The concern is that communities
are acting outside democratic processes as well as institutional arrangements meant
to bridge local delivery issues and intended community beneficiaries. It is possible
that communities are either unaware of public policy instruments or that they do
not respect them as bona fide channels of engagement with the state. Consequently
protest, usually lacking organisation, strategic direction and leadership pervades the local government landscape. Accordingly, the purpose of the article is to
examine how and why public policy provisions fail the public. The focus is on policy
provisions in local government legislation and the relatively recent (2007) local
government policy review process, which was intended to address, among other
aspects, good governance and public participation approaches, thereby enhancing
service delivery. Overall, the article attempts to evaluate policy gaps at the local
government sphere in South Africa.