Failing the public through public policy : a review of the local government experience in South Africa

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 16
  • Abstract:

    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.