Institutionalising Activism at the Interface with Government: Examples from South Africa

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 12:45
Location: Hörsaal III (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Sandrine GUKELBERGER, Sociology, Germany
Since the 1990s, many countries in the global South have adopted triptych decentralisation-privatisation-participation policies that have redefined responsibilities and resources of local government. The political importance of cities grew, and their responsibilities in service delivery broadened. This paper looks at public policies that are supposed to advance decentralisation,  to mediate between the state and ‘disadvantaged communities’, and to foster public participation among the ‘urban poor’ with the overall aim of eradicating poverty through efficient local self-governance. Based upon extensive empirical fieldwork in South African townships, I explore how civil society actors are integrated in the urban governance system. Specifically, I discuss the Ward Committee System established by local government and the Community Development Worker Programme introduced by the provincial government. How do these policies and programmes operate in political practice, and how do they intersect and become interwoven and contested at the urban level? I argue that the state’s intention to recruit voluntary community workers and activists in order to professionalise them constitutes an attempt to appropriate civil society for specific political ends.  Not surprisingly, then, these arranged encounters at the interface to incorporate ‘civil society’ in urban governance become mixed-up with inter/intrapersonal conflicts that are historically specific.