Minister Madikizela: Public Participation Key to Equitable Management of Urban Land
Professor Paulo Sandroni,
Ms Kailash Bhana,
Members of DAG,
Guests and colleagues.
Good afternoon ladies and gentleman.
It gives me great pleasure to be here today and welcome you all to this seminar on urban governance, an issue that is important to the Provincial Government of the Western Cape.
The Ministry of Human Settlements - Western Cape Government wishes to extend its good wishes to the organisers and participants of this event, especially the guest speaker, Paulo Sandroni. Urban governance is a complex and challenging process. The more debate and discussion we have will reduce the chances for misunderstandings, mistrust and exclusion.
In opening, I would like to share some of my thoughts on public participation and good governance. We face an incredible challenge in the creation of integrated and sustainable human settlements in the Western Cape. The settlements we create must offer our citizens access to jobs, to transport, to hospitals, to recreation and to schools, and they must also enable people to grow, to flourish and to prosper. Part of our mission in the Western Cape is to inculcate a sense of ownership and responsibility among the people for the houses they have and communities they live in. In order for them to experience a sense of ownership and responsibility, they have to take an active part in the planning, construction and governance of their settlements, and this is done through public participation processes.
Public participation happens at multiple levels. At the project level, public participation is most extensive in People's Housing Process (PHP) projects, where community members take the initiative to come together, plan a project, and play an active role in all aspects of its implementation. The project level also includes the broader public participation required in terms of environmental and planning legislation. Then there is the macro level of urban spatial development, as well as the broad principles of urban design, where we look to the future to create integrated and sustainable cities, towns and neighbourhoods.
Underlying all public participation is a principle where civil society, along with government and the private sector, plays a co-creative role in urban governance. When public participation occurs at all levels, there is an increasing sense of ownership, an increase in social inclusion, and an increase in co-operation between the citizens and the state.
To allow for effective public participation, several structures need to be in place. Legislation must support and enforce it. There must be a clear framework, with clear guidelines and mandates, and there need to be competent facilitators to manage the process. Then all the complexities of urban development must be included, including sustainable housing, urban land use, slum prevention, environmental management and public health. The structures have to allow for the fair involvement of citizens in determining the futures of their cities, towns and neighborhoods, yet must also be robust enough to make sure that work gets done, projects are started and finished, and the "Not in My Back Yard" attitude, for example, doesn't block timely progress.
Once these structures are in place, we are faced with yet another challenge, which is creating a culture of civic engagement. This is one of the most difficult things to do. It is easy to get local, regional and national government talking to each other. It is quite easy for NGOs to come to the table, as they have funding, and they work closely with government and communities. Yet, it's difficult to let the man on the street know that he or she has a voice, that he can use it, and to believe that it will be heard.
In poorer communities where people suffer from so much struggle, and where there is often an enormous sense of hopelessness and futility, it will be a challenge to encourage the citizenry to engage, to be proactive, and to know that they can be drivers in the process of urban governance, especially when discussing longer term planning, rather than the immediate engagement about a project from which they expect to benefit.
At the project level, the community elects a project steering committee to represent their interests, and government recognises the project steering committee as having a mandate to be the voice of the community. Yet, even at the project level, we are faced with challenges.
Communities splinter into smaller groups with vested self interest, which attempt to bypass the mandate. Local politicians try and influence the project steering committees or influence the election process to enforce their own political agenda. If we are not very careful, it becomes again a case of a few people in power or seeking power trying to manipulate the process and the communities needs to support their own agendas. And then we have situations where everyone agrees on the way forward, planning and implementation starts, and then the communities come and want to change the plan, or say it's not what they agreed to, or complain about corruption, and the project gets stopped. Increasing civic participation in the design of our future cities will lead to the bigger political players wanting to get involved and trying to hijack agendas, and we must safeguard against this.
We will also have to make sure that the people respect due process. We cannot have situations like we have in housing today where people vandalise houses, invade land illegally, or turn to violence and force to try and get what they want. We have situations where self benefit is greater than the rights of others, and we simply cannot allow this.
We must always make sure that public participation and civil engagement stays free, fair and transparent, and that, no matter if its local, regional or national government, the people themselves are left with a feeling of responsibility, empowerment and ownership. If we can do this then we are on the right track and we are creating integrated and sustainable communities.
The vision of a mutually engaging society where civil society, the government and the private sector create communities where everyone can be a winner is a noble one. We are trying our best to do this with our projects; yet to be really committed, we have to take it one step further. We have to take it into our daily lives, in our relationships with our families and our colleagues, where even though we might feel we have more power, we seek to do everything in relationship with each other, and with respect, and we make space for everyone to feel heard and to feel included. If we can do this with our colleagues and friends and families, then we can also do this with the greater society. It was Gandhi who said "be the change you wish to see in the world".
It is this intention, of doing things together, of relating and respecting, not because our jobs tell us to do this, but because it's our principled way of doing things, that will be our strength. This strength will let us overcome the complex cultural, legislative and structural challenges in our way, and allow us to create a working framework for engagement between all the stakeholders of government, the citizenry and the private sector. It is an exciting time for housing in the Western Cape and South Africa, and I hope this seminar can stimulate some good thoughts and discussion on the topic.