The participation of informal settlement communities in city-level policy-making processes in Johannesburg

Mohamed, Salah Eddin Elzein
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This study aims at exploring the complexity of involving informal settlement communities in policy-making processes at city-level. The key objective is to extend our understanding of the practice of public participation by focusing on the involvement of one of the most disadvantaged sectors of society living on the peripheries of contemporary cities. Many studies have dealt with the participation of informal settlement communities in the planning, implementation and management of localized development projects. This study explores the involvement of these communities in making policies that not only address their local immediate needs, but also contribute in the future development of the cities where they live. Informal settlement communities generally experience social, economic and spatial exclusion. The informal and/or ‘illegal’ nature of informal settlements often hinders the involvement of their residents in local political processes thus adding to their vulnerability and marginalization. Advancing citizenship rights of these communities contributes to guaranteeing their inclusion and access to what cities have to offer. The thesis consists of two parts in addition to an introduction and a conclusion. Part One looks at theoretical perspectives on the notion of public participation with a focus on the participation of poor sectors of society in policy-making processes. This part also explores various approaches to urban management and examines the extent to which these approaches enable participation of informal settlement communities in city-level policy making. Part One also looks at the possibilities and limitations of informal settlement communities in policy-making by drawing on experiences from the Municipality of São Paulo in Brazil. Part Two of the thesis then shifts discussion to the policy and practice of public participation in the City of Johannesburg and empirically examines the extent of involving the informal settlement communities of one of the city’s administrative regions in policy making processes. iv The study establishes that participation in city-level policy-making processes is very complex due to the nature of issues addressed and the multitude of actors involved. It also shows that participatory approaches to urban management, which seek to combat inequality and realize social justice in cities, provide an environment conducive to the involvement of informal settlement communities in policy-making at city level. However, to achieve successful involvement of these communities in policy-making processes, city governments need to have the appropriate mandate that enables them to deal with issues that matter for the dwellers of informal settlements such as access to urban land, housing, basic services, education and health. In addition, city governments need to be open to and supportive of informal settlements, and have appropriate mechanisms for their participation in policy-making. From their side, informal settlement communities can only benefit from participatory opportunities if they have strong, well connected community structures that seek to make their voices heard. The study also finds that in a democratically open system, the actual practice of participation is continuously evolving through the interplay between policy and legal provisions and elements of micro contexts. Facilitators of this evolution are local officials and community organisations.