Much of the focus in the literature on participatory development has been on the
demand side and on the extent to which citizens succeed in pressuring the state to
deliver basic services. Less attention has been focused on the supply side of participatory
development, namely on how state institutions give effect to development policies.
Post-Apartheid South Africa is replete with policies and legislation supporting participatory
processes and yet in practice this has seldom lived up to the ideals espoused.
This article examines the delivery of public housing in poor communities in three
municipalities in South Africa and argues that there is a mismatch between how the
formulators of policy understand participation and how it is interpreted by beneficiary
communities and local officials. It concludes that considerably more attention needs to
be focused on why officials fail to translate national policies into action if participatory
democracy is to attain any legitimacy in the population at large.