Public participation as participatory conflict resolution: Shortcomings and best practices at the local level in South Africa

  • S Mbuyisa


In South Africa the constitutional order brought about by the transition to democracy, and the subsequent policy and legislation frameworks, have enabled ordinary people to participate in governance and policy making. Yet, according to some studies, the importance of participation – agreed to by politicians, practised and promoted by academics – has yet to be translated into a lived reality at the local level. In this paper, I write about the debates on participation, its advantages, and disadvantages.
This paper offers an additional resource to public participation practitioners and beneficiaries, aiding them in the use of negotiation, mediation, and generic conflict resolution approaches to resolve public participation stalemates, and in the process, to strengthen and legitimise those public participation processes. Drawing on the existing literature, I describe what works and why; I also point out the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches. Ultimately, the objective is to share the complementary nature of conflict resolution and public participation, and show how – if they are combined effectively – public participation can be enhanced.
While I strongly believe that the literature supports my contention that conflict resolution principles and practices are useful for fair and equitable public participation, I do not have authoritative empirical evidence to state this as fact. Nonetheless, I believe that the ‘best practices’ outlined in the  paper are useful and valuable tools and should be implemented as far as possible.

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eISSN: 1562-6997