ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability
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Cape Town, South Africa

The City of Cape Town is a melting pot of different cultures. Poverty is one of its crucial issues-there is a need for more than 120,000 houses in the city, over 300,000 people are unemployed, and more than 1,000,000 people do not have access to basic municipal services. In many parts of the city however, the infrastructure is advanced, comparable to cities in the more developed countries.

Historically, due to apartheid racism and segregation, most of civil society has organized against various levels of government to demand human and democratic rights. For the majority of the black population the local government has always been illegitimate. Until 1994, black people did not have the right to vote or to choose where they wanted to live or work, let alone be engaged in decisions of local government.

The transition to democracy in Cape Town has seen three distinct political phases: the Local Government Negotiation Forum was set up to negotiate the interim political leadership for 1994-1996; an interim body called the Transitional Substructure of Cape Town was set up consisting half of councillors from the previously-elected council and half of representatives from civil-society bodies; finally, in March 1996, six new substructures of the Cape Metropolitan Area (CMA) were established, followed two months later by the first democratic local government elections. The council was renamed and restructured to break with apartheid traditions, and to better reflect the new functions allocated to it in terms of the changed administrative boundaries.


The city council's top management team attended a global forum in Manchester, United Kingdom, in June 1994, and realized the need for a new approach to manage cities in South Africa. A twelve-member ad hoc Steering Committee was formed four months later to set up the MCP and introduce the concept to the community. In November 1994, Cape Town was selected by ICLEI to participate in the MCP.

The MCP in Cape Town has been closely aligned with the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) introduced by the Government of National Unity. A programme that redresses the imbalances created as a result of four decades of apartheid planning, it incorporates an integrated, socioeconomic policy framework that in many ways reflects the aims and objectives of LA 21. Both programmes aim to establish partnerships between government and civil society, initiate sustainable development planning, improve the quality of life in marginalized communities and prioritize the needs of the poor.

The RDP urges local communities to organize their NGOs, unions, women's groups and other sectors to work together and form RDP Forums. These forums are now the main mechanism used to establish relationships between municipalities and civil society throughout the country.

Initially, responsibility for implementing the MCP rested with the deputy city planner. Council established Interdepartmental and Multi-disciplinary Planning Teams to integrate and streamline its various departments to deal more effectively with community issues. The teams were intended to act on MCP-initiated decisions; however, the day-to-day responsibility for the MCP was devolved to one staff member in the Environmental Planning Unit and Planning Team.


In October 1994, Council brought various stakeholders together to form an ad hoc Steering Committee to guide the LA 21 planning process until a permanent committee could be formed. The twelve-member committee included representatives from the local and metropolitan governments, as well as from NGOs and unions. During the set-up phase of the project it initiated various activities, including workshops, a questionnaire and a radio/library campaign, with the specific purpose of introducing the concepts of sustainable development and the MCP to the broader community.

The first workshop, held in July 1995, introduced the concept of sustainable development to the community. One hundred and twenty participants attended, including people from citizens' groups, NGOs, RDP Forums, women, youth, education, labor, business and government. The workshop linked the RDP and LA 21 processes at the local level, and identified the key issues in the CMA relating to environmental management.

At a second workshop, delegates unanimously decided to focus the MCP on a geographic area rather than a single, city-wide issue. The participants set up a Selection Committee-a multi-sectoral team that included both government and non-government representatives-to choose the area. Hanover Park was selected.

Hanover Park is typical of the underdeveloped areas of the city-a high-density, low-income area developed as a direct result of apartheid planning in the early 1970s. It is about fifteen square kilometers in size with a predominantly working-class population of 37,000. The area is economically depressed, and lacks adequate housing, proper drainage systems and public transport. The environmental conditions are also poor, mainly due to the burning of coal, paraffin and wood. Overall the township required an urban-renewal strategy to allow it to prosper and become sustainable.

The ad hoc Steering Committee ended its mandate in May 1996, when a stakeholder group was formed. The stakeholder group was established to support, monitor and evaluate the MCP in Hanover Park, and to oversee the planning process. It consisted of thirteen members (six women and seven men) representing a wide range of sectors including RDP Forums, local governments and NGOs. Civics were not represented on the stakeholder group due to their philosophical and political differences with the RDP. Business people felt they did not have time to participate, but were willing to contribute funds to projects initiated by the stakeholder group.

The capacity of stakeholder group members varied considerably, leading to problems at various stages. Councillors' capacity was enhanced through presentations and reading material relating to the MCP and sustainable-development concepts. This process had to be repeated on three separate occasions when new officials were elected.

The meager resources available to attend and participate in meetings limited the capacity of NGO representatives. In addition, they did not always have the mandate to make decisions and so had to secure their constituencies' support for each proposed intervention. CBOs had the least capacity and the least resources. Because of this, they tended to participate in the stakeholder group only when invited and did not initiate actions themselves.

Although municipal officials were joint partners with other stakeholders in decisions relating to Hanover Park, in practice their decisions often overrode those of the group, thus creating considerable tension. Initially, this was largely because municipal officials had greater capacity than many of the other members of the group. Despite the problems, participation in the stakeholder group increased the capacity of its members.

The stakeholder group adopted no specific decision-making principles or criteria, although a memorandum of trust (still in draft form), provides a framework for building consensus and managing conflict. The stakeholder group had no financial decision-making powers and no budget-the lack of which severely compromised its work.

Community-Based Issue Analysis
At the time of writing, the MCP in Hanover Park had been in place less than two years. It had established the stakeholder group and negotiated the responsibilities of the various partners. A community consultation process and guidelines had yet to be established. The stakeholder group used the issues identified in the RDP submission to determine its own priorities when making decisions about projects in Hanover Park. The two main priorities were planning a transport route in the area, and upgrading the Lotus River Canal.

The only direct involvement of the community occurred with the Community Launch and the Youth Visioning Workshop. The Community Launch, held in October 1996, was attended by 150 people. Its intent was to introduce the MCP to the broader community and outline its potential benefits and opportunities.

Five months after the launch, a four-day Youth Visioning Workshop was held where children drew their perceptions of community problems and their visions of Hanover Park in the future. A weekly children's Art Forum has been set up as a result of the workshop.

Outcomes of the MCP
The MCP has linked council and key stakeholders to broad planning initiatives including a project to improve the transport corridor in the local region. The MCP was also linked to the People's Budget Process. The council initiated a series of community workshops, distributed questionnaires and made presentations through the media to develop understanding of how a city draws up its budget. Drawing on these initiatives, the Hanover Park RDP Forum made a submission to council outlining the local community's planning priorities to be taken into account when council finalized the budget.

The single most important outcome of the MCP in Hanover Park is the series of recommendations made to senior management to assist in putting the municipality's vision for community partnerships and sustainable development into practice. These recommendations include:

  • a proposal for a nine- to twelve-person multi-disciplinary team within the municipality, responsible for facilitating and coordinating the environmental management functions undertaken by various departments and branches;
  • the establishment of a multi-disciplinary team to deal with foreign, business and industrial funding opportunities, to identify potential city projects that may provide partnership initiatives, and to channel funds to ensure sustainable development;
  • the integration of the MCP with other planning initiatives such as Strategic Management Plans, Integrated Development Plans, etc.;
  • various recommendations relating to staffing, funding and the location of the MCP in the organizational structure of the municipality; and
  • methods to establish partnerships with community organizations.

Overall, implementing the MCP in Cape Town has provided valuable lessons for projects of a similar nature in a country that is in fundamental transition, and where the target communities have previously been marginalized and oppressed.

Lessons Learned from the LA 21 Planning Process
  • Administrative and political stability is necessary to facilitate a successful LA 21 process. It can be difficult for partnerships to effectively influence municipal decision making when officials are reassigned or departments are restructured.
  • Links to other participatory planning undertakings can strengthen the LA 21 process. In Cape Town, the MCP had links to initiatives to improve the transport corridor in the local region and to the People's Budget Process. Drawing on these initiatives, the Hanover Park RDP Forum was able to make a submission to council outlining the local community's planning priorities to be taken into account when council finalized the budget.
  • Sectors that are difficult to engage in the planning process can participate in some way. In Cape Town, civics were not represented on the stakeholder group due to their philosophical and political differences with the RDP. Similarly, business people felt they did not have time to participate. But these groups can participate in some way-in Cape Town, businesses were willing to contribute funds to projects initiated by the stakeholder group.
  • Capacity constraints-both knowledge and financial-must be overcome for meaningful partnerships to be established. In Cape Town, councillors' knowledge capacity was enhanced through presentations and reading materials, a process that was repeated on three separate occasions when new officials were elected.
  • The lack of decision-making power and funds can severely compromise the work of a stakeholder group. Although municipal officials in Cape Town were joint partners with other stakeholders in decisions relating to Hanover Park, in practice their decisions often overrode those of the group, creating considerable tension. Lack of resources negatively affected NGO participation.