“Towards a Dialectic of Invited and Invented Spaces: Notes Towards a Speech”
Yunus Carrim, Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance and traditional Affairs
GOOD GOVERNANCE LEARNING NETWORK
LAUNCH OF “RECOGNISING COMMUNITY VOICE AND DISSATISFACTION”
13 April 2011
• Allow me in the first place to congratulate you on the release of “Recognising Community Voice and Dissatisfaction”, and to thank you for inviting me to this launch. I know some of you and know the quality of what you bring to local government – and it’s reflected, indeed, in this report. The report is timely, in coming out just five weeks before the local government elections – which is meant to be one of the most important and biggest expressions of community participation in local government in our democracy, even if the polls are usually about 48%. I take it that Good Governance Learning Network (GGLN) would not see it as an institutionalized, constraining “invited space” that communities need not use. Rather that you will see that people must vote as one of many different ways of giving expression to their views, needs and interests. As one of the ways of expressing their power.
• Which brings me to the main point of my response. Doesn’t the publication unduly polarize “invited” and “invented” spaces? Of course, for communities to use “invited” spaces, even where they can use them at all, is not enough. Of course, they must and will, through their own mass struggles and other means, create their own, as you say, “invented” spaces. But why can’t the two be complementary? Dialectical? After all, even the “invited” spaces have not just been created by the government on its own ! No, they are also an outcome of the mass struggles, particularly of the civic movement of the 80s and early 90s – in other words the “invented” spaces created by ordinary people. The Municipal Systems Act, for all its weaknesses, and the failures to effectively implement significant parts of it, is a glorious piece of legislation. It represents all and more of what those of us active in the UDF-aligned civics in the 80s wanted. Yes, yes, it’s not being implemented effectively.
The responsibility for that resides mainly with municipalities, but also with communities. But that’s not the main point for now. It’s this: that “invited” spaces are often the outcomes of “invented” spaces. That, yes, struggles that “invent” spaces have a logic, as it were, of their own, and are not necessarily directed at creating more “invited” spaces, and that such spaces could, indeed, constrain and defuse progressive struggles. But unless these struggles are directed at the overthrow of the state, surely they at some time or another need to intersect with or impact on “invited” spaces?? In other words, “invented” spaces could and should contribute to widening and changing “invited” spaces for the better, and these spaces could in turn be used to “invent” more space. In short, isn’t there – or shouldn’t there be - a dialectical relationship between “invented” and “invited” spaces?
• A related point. Yes, there are many, many problems with statutory structures for community participation. But are these “invited” spaces inherently demobilizing? Are they invariably imbued with, to use your words, a “technicist, procedural and instrumentalist approach” ? That, as you also say, “public participation has by and large become a technicist and procedural exercise, driven by the state on terms set by the state”? Or is it more accurate to say that the statutory structures are just not working for a variety of reasons? Yes, there is an element of wanting to control and streamline community participation from above in many municipalities, and this drives people away. But isn’t it more that the Ward Committees and other structures of community participation are just not functioning adequately? You know the reasons with Ward Committees, for example – among others, the lack of funding; political parties instead of civil society dominating; councilors and officials with inadequate skills and understanding; capacity constraints of civil society representatives; some wards being geographically too big; and so on. Of course, there are other reasons too. But if the Ward Committees worked according to the policy and law, would they not be important spaces for community participation? Which is not to say that non-statutory means of community participation should be abandoned.
• Again: is it fair to say, as you do, that the “institutional framework for public participation limits participation outside structured spaces and processes”? And to suggest that this is the sole reason “citizens are turning more and more to creating their own spaces to express dissatisfaction and dissent.”?
• Before I forget: of course your publication contains different articles written from different vantage points, with differences in emphasis and orientation – I am here dealing with what emerge to be the key overall themes. And in a short, hurried speech like this, there’ll invariably be generalizations.
• I should also say that, with time constraints, I was not able to read the entire publication, but I did browse through all the articles. I’ll go through the publication properly sometime, and maybe get to giving you a fuller response.
• Let me go on. As CoGTA, we are very clear that Ward Committees have to be improved, as you also note. Some of our proposals on Ward Committees:
• Ward Committees should more clearly represent a range of civil society stakeholders, such as local residents associations, and women, youth, cultural, religious, taxi, professional and other organizations, and not be over-run by political party activists.
• Wards covering a large geographical area should have area-based sub-structures of Ward Committees. These could include street, village and other sub-committees.
• More funding and other resources should be allocated to Ward Committees.
• Councils should be obliged in law to seriously consider proposals from Ward Committees.
• Each Ward Committee should be allocated a Community Development Worker (CDW) to act as its “CEO”.
• Each Ward Committee should oversee the adoption of a Ward Development Plan that should feed into the IDP. Ward Committees should take responsibility for small projects within the Ward using local labour – for example, fixing potholes, pavements, street lights and the like. Ward Committees should also oversee bigger projects in the ward.
• Of course, these and other proposals can’t be implemented overnight. They will have to be phased in incrementally, over time, based on budgetary, capacity and other constraints. There are no magic wands to wave here, regrettably. It’s going to be a painstaking process. But it’s do-able – over time!...
• A major theme of the publication is the constant failure of the state to listen to the people, especially if they raise their voices outside the “invited spaces”. Of course, we need to listen more – and even more important, act more, having listened. But it’s not as if the government never listens. Or that it has a policy to be deaf to voices raised outside the statutory structures of community participation. Also the publication does not always distinguish between municipalities, on the one hand, and provincial and national government on the other. As national government, as CoGTA in particular, we have been stressing the vital importance of community participation. Of course, there are municipalities that ignore, and are sometimes hostile to, community engagement, especially outside “”invited spaces”, but that is certainly not our position as CoGTA! And we have directly responded to many cases of community protests, including the Dipaleseng case referred to in your publication.
• And it’s not as if the ANC is not concerned about the problems created by councilors being distant from communities. The ANC has removed mayors and other key councilors in several cases because they failed to engage with communities on their needs. And the ANC is keen to see Ward Committees and other forums of community participation at local government level strengthened.
• Related to the major conception in the publication of “invited” and “invented” spaces is a particular abstracted notion of the state in the majority of the articles. The state is seen as being above the people. Yet the state is also shaped by the people - by their struggles, their needs, their interests too. And the state is also made up of people – and within it, major contestations, not just through unions and employers, take place. The state is a major site of contestation – and it must be engaged with, even if there are other spaces through which struggles are waged….
• We should also recognize that for all the importance of community participation, we should not romanticize it. Communities should not be presented as monolithic angels and the state as universal devils. One welcomes the comment in your publication that: “Invented spaces’ are not democratic utopias and can still marginalize people already on the fringes, particularly if they include violence.” Of course!
• Some of these communities are contested, complex and multi-layered, with changing loyalties and fluctuating leaderships. In some communities, different strata or factions constantly compete for hegemony. Ensuring stable participation is not easy. But this shouldn’t be used as an excuse. It is precisely because of these circumstances that community participation is so important.
• We are very clear. Without community participation and engagement in decision-making the state is much poorer and weaker. With the current administration of President Zuma, we have been much more frank about the inability of the state to significantly improve service delivery and development without active mass participation. Yes, there are ups and downs even since – but there is more space for community participation now than since the early years of our new democracy……You need to be creative to use this space to change it and create more space for yourselves….
• There’s the LGTAS (Local Government Turnaround Strategy). Within the national framework it provides, municipalities have shaped their specific MTAS (Municipal Turnaround Strategy). The MTAS will not work without community participation. GGLN needs to encourage organisations you work to become involved in the MTASs. Municipalities may not always open the door - but you need to put your foot in….
• As CoGTA too we are prepared to work with you to ensure that municipalities take community participation more seriously. Help the municipalities and help us to help them. Yes “invented spaces” are crucial, but so too are “invited spaces”. Don’t create Chinese walls between them….
• If my exchange with you may at times seem robust, please know it’s because I take you seriously. You are a very important network to local government. And what you say matters.
• And what we should do sometime after the elections is get you to come to CoGTA and take our officials working on ward committees and community participation in local government through your publication. Let’s engage more.
• Keep up the good work! And keep up the pressure on us!