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Who builds the city? A study of the redistribution of power

True collaboration with deep levels of trust and associated accountability between different role players is essential in ensuring that the needs of citizens are met.  However, collaborative efforts tend to have varying levels of success, and gaps often exist between the desires of citizens and the needs identified by government. Written collaboratively by Habitat for Humanity and Ubuhle Bakha Ubuhle, Chapter 2 of the SoLG 2017 explores these issues by discussing the case of Sweet Home Farm in Phillippi, Cape Town.

These mentioned gaps are further widened by an unequal distribution of power between citizens and government, which results in a scenario where the rights and responsibilities around the governance of our cities are contested. The phenomenon of these widened gaps is particularly evident in the case of the informal settlement of Sweet Home Farm in Philippi, which was showcased early in 2017 at a collaborative (intermediary) sector engagement: the Practitioner’s Platform.

At this engagement the case study was used to illustrate that true collaboration requires a level of trust and compromise to allow for the redistribution of power to co-create effective solutions through partnerships. By looking through a lens of collaboration intertwined with accountability, the chapter seeks to use this case study to highlight the successes of collaborative planning processes and answers the question, 'Who builds the city?'

To answer this question, the chapter firstly looks more closely at the South African policy context and juxtaposes that with some theory regarding participation, developed by Sherry Arnestein (1969). Arnestein’s theory illustrates participation as a ladder with eight rungs ranging from non-participation to citizen power. The theory is then applied to the case of Sweet Home Farm, and is used to investigate how the study that was tabled at the Practitioner’s Platform contributes to advancing the case higher up on the ‘ladder of participation’. Finally, some recommendations are made regarding the important role that collaboration and accountability play in advancement on the ‘ladder’. The chapter argues that,

'True empowerment and transformation can only be achieved through high levels of collaboration and accountability.'

Accountability and collaboration requires citizens to familiarise themselves with their environments and take action to dynamically promote the accessibility of Citizen Power in their cities and to hold government to account. Citizen Power can only be achieved if the imbalance of power distribution is addressed in a responsible, transparent and honest way. The case study of Sweet Home Farm proves that citizens should be capacitated to build their cities alongside government, and that the virtues of collaboration and accountability can (and have to) co-exist to ensure successful development outcomes for all citizens.

The case study of Sweet Home Farm, to a certain extent, serves as a ‘call to action’ to encourage active citizenry.

Unless citizens are able to truly access power to build their city, the efforts of practitioners, policy decision-makers, government and private sector actors will not be impactful. Only by aligning agency, expertise and inherent knowledge, true accountable collaboration can become effective, and can real change be achieved.

To read the full chapter, please click here.

Written by: Hannalie Malan, Magriet du Preez and Barry Lewis - Habitat for Humanity South Africa and Ubuhle Bakha Ubuhle





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Sharing the common goal of promoting participatory, effective, accountable and pro-poor local governance, the network strives to provide an interface for civil society organisations to network and share information towards strengthening local democracy in South Africa.