chapter  5
22 Pages

Decentralization by Stealth: Democratization or Disempowerment through Developmental Local Government?

Since the late 1980s, there has been growing interest in local government and the process of decentralization. For some, this has been heralded as part of the ‘good governance’ agenda (World Bank, 1997; McCarney, 1996a) and indicative of enhanced democratization in countries of the South (Manor, 1999). For others, there is scepticism over a ‘decentralization euphoria’ that leads not to democratization but to the disempowerment of local authorities and local societies alike (Harvey, 1989; Schuurman, 1997; Tendler, 1997). In South Africa the debate on decentralization has been muted. This is hardly surprising given the centralizing tendencies of the ruling national party, the ANC – understandable in a context where the apartheid legacy rewarded political mobilization on the basis of ethnic and regional identity and where local and regional power blocs sought to undermine ANC presence and influence. Notwithstanding the national emphasis of the negotiated settlement, the end of apartheid changed the face of South African local government irrevocably, as democratic municipal authorities were formed across the country for the first time in a process we call ‘decentralization by stealth’.