A Critical Examination of the Nature of the Public Participation Process: A Case of the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom Square Project

Khanyile, Ntokozo Vincent
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This research study sought to evaluate the participation process which was put into practice by the Tshwane City Council as part of implementing the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom Square (SMFS) project in 2012. NMA Effective Social Strategies were appointed by the City to facilitate the public participation process and Ikemeleng Architects to do the design of the square. The square is a public space of heritage significance to the locals and its upgrading bears a remembrance devoted to Solomon Mahlangu and other apartheid struggle heroes from Mamelodi Township. Accordingly, a variety of local organisations were invited to share their stories and memories around this memorial marking. In turn, this would help the designers of the space to collate information which would be handy for the design of the space. This study then sought to investigate the nature of the public participation process that was used in the SMFS project. It examines the rationale behind the promotion of participation in this project, the methods used. Furthermore, it analyses the participants’ interests, their roles and inputs which they contributed into the design brief. Hence, the study contributes to the radical theorist’s responses to the mainstreaming of participation that have tended to view participation as dual, i.e. as means to an end (participation to achieve certain development objectives) or an end in itself. Indeed participation holds a promise of mankind emancipation from the oppressive system of power. However, some scholars have observed that participation could be used as a way of co-opting local organisations or civil society and communities into top down development schemes that serve interests of those in power. On the contrary, others have argued that civil society is in place to guard against the exercise of power by the state or those with private interest and thus aiding people’s participation at grassroots level. This report recounts the different perspectives highlighted above in the experience of the SMFS project. It employs data pertinent to the project and in-depth interviews to answer the central question: what was the nature of the public participation process employed in the design of SMFS? The study then seeks to contribute to the understanding of different denotations and procedures of participation. While governments are requires to streamline participation, the study also adds the understanding of civil society’s role and the need for is mobilisation in public participation. The researcher argues that participation spaces and methods should be flexible to allow collective action amongst the state, civil society and communities. Furthermore, the paper argues that participants should begin to take a more intricate process of engaging plans and not to merely shape them through partial inputs and fragmentary processes.
Planning Honours Research Report 2014, Wits University
public particiption, civil society
Khanyile, N (2015). A Critical Examination of the Nature of the Public Participation Process: A Case of the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom Square Project , University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg