Programmatic approach: Democracy, Governance and Citizenship

Participatory democracy is a right that enables the realisation of all other human rights. Yet there are no national policy frameworks guiding the quality and direction of participatory democracy. Fundamentally, improving participatory democracy in South Africa must confront the problem of a lack of trust in leadership, slow progress towards delivery of socioeconomic rights, and persistent, historical exclusions. Re-building the state’s relationship with citizens is thus an integral task of the developmental democratic state, requiring effort, commitment and imagination beyond technical processes of service provision. It also requires acknowledging and addressing the multiple and overlapping forms of exclusion that vulnerable groups experience in South Africa. A collaborative, co-governance approach, based on meaningful engagement between citizens, the state and its institutions is needed.

Effective institutions are foremost lacking at local government level. While government has conducted several capacity audits of municipalities, capacity building programmes have largely failed, as indicated in the Auditor-General’s reports. Strong intervention should be directly linked to improving and streamlining intergovernmental relations to improve the delivery of services and the fulfilment of socioeconomic rights.

The HSRC will work with governments, oversight bodies and civil society to improve and strengthen participatory democracy though research and implementation support, and advocate for the adoption of a values-based approach to development, with a focus on developmental local government and accountable leadership.