Effectiveness or empowerment? : an assessment of participatory democracy in contemporary South Africa

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Overbeeke, Merel
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This thesis develops a theoretical framework to demonstrate why public participation is currently promoted in developing countries by a wide range of organisations, from international financial agencies to local communist political parties. The argument is that a consensus has been reached between right- and left-wing theorists on the need to adopt participatory institutions to secure the stability and survival of new democracies. In theory, public participation can increase legitimacy of the democratic system by improving the decision-making processes (input-oriented concept) and its substantive products (output-oriented concept). An assessment of the case of South Africa illustrates that local participatory governance is currently failing on both accounts due to unresponsiveness and inefficiency. The introduction of an outcome-oriented concept of legitimacy could bridge the gap between input and output legitimacy by bringing to light the achievements of public participation and demonstrate its added value to problem-solving and reducing inequality. Thus, there is a need to develop a strong monitoring and evaluation system to facilitate a continuous process of learning and feedback to change the behaviour of both social forces and political actors in order to improve the quality of local democratic processes and their results.
Second semester University: Université Libre de Bruxelles
participation, participatory democracy, South Africa