South Africa’s public policy approach since 1994 has been robust and forwardlooking.
The policy process has been stretched over all areas of governance. Many
policies have been translated into law, regulations and institutions which aimed
explicitly as serving the public good. The key is narrowing the gap between the
institutions of governance and people’s needs.
However public dissatisfaction and mass protest in the local government sphere
continue. Mass public protest consumes public capability and is therefore wasteful
and counterproductive. The response of the authorities entering the contested space
is usually reactionary and is hardly successful at addressing the core grievances
of communities. Crucially, political representatives, i.e. ward and proportional
representative councillors, are crowded out of resolution processes.
Communities argue that mass protest and the appropriation of public space is an
essential tactic of gaining the attention of the highest authorities. Most community
protests are accompanied by acts of violence. Sometimes, the presence of policing
services and/or the media exacerbates the crisis.
The concern is that communities are acting outside democratic processes
as well as institutional arrangements meant to bridge local delivery issues and
intended community beneficiaries. It is possible that communities are either
unaware of public policy instruments or that they do not respect them as
bona fide channels of engagement with the local state. Consequently, protest,
usually lacking organisation, strategic direction and leadership pervade the local
Accordingly, the purpose of the article is to examine how and why public policy
provisions fail the public. The focus will be on policy provisions in local government
legislation and the recent (2007) local government policy review process, which
were intended to address, among others, good governance and public participation
approaches, thereby enhancing service delivery. Overall, the article will attempt to
evaluate policy gaps at the local government sphere.