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Durban, South Africa

The Durban Metropolitan Area (DMA), with a population of 2.5 million, is the largest port on the east coast of Africa. While it is a typical South African city in terms of the legacy left from racial planning and institutions, it is distinctive in terms language, ethnic and racial mix, and political make-up. As a metropolitan area that juxtaposes the extremes of wealth and poverty, the lessons learned here about sustainable development planning have relevance to many parts of the world faced with economic polarities and growing threats to natural and human environments.Key development, environment and growth concerns include the destruction of natural ecosystems (Durban is located within a region of high biodiversity); the spread of unserviced informal settlements; a rise in unemployment, social division, conflict, crime and domestic abuse; an increase in industrial pollution; and the weakened local government administration and services.

Government restructuring began in 1994 with the democratization of South Africa. The DMA is now divided into six local council areas, each with 30 to 70 councillors elected through a ward system. The responsibility for issues like those mentioned above lies with the local government. A number of NGOs and CBOs deal with urban issues and are active in certain communities. Industry and business seldom get involved unless they have a direct interest in an issue.

LA 21 has profoundly affected the extent and manner in which citizens engage with local government structures. However, although restructuring has attempted to facilitate better working relations between government and citizens, advantaged wards still have better access to councillors despite the greater needs of less advantaged wards.


In 1994, Durban appointed its first environmental manager who, with the Urban Strategy Department, initiated a sustainable development process by increasing local support for LA 21 and by securing the involvement of the World Bank. The main objectives of the sustainable development process were to develop sustainable development strategies and action plans for the city and to use LA 21 as a policy framework to guide metropolitan development and decision making.

In August 1994, Durban's Council accepted the implementation of LA 21 as a corporate responsibility and joined ICLEI. Phase one of the LA 21 began with undertaking the first State of the Environment and Development Study for the DMA.

A Project Team comprising six people from the DMA, the Center for Science and Industrial Research and the Institute for Social and Economic Research, was formed to conceptualize and manage the Environment and Development Study. In October 1994, an Interim Steering Committee was convened by the Project Team to critique the initial study proposal.

Two more inclusive stakeholder groups were then formed to oversee the study.

  • The Advisory Committee was created to ensure representation from all sectors, including CBOs, NGOs, industry and academics. As union, youth and women's groups had not yet been constituted, they were not included on the Committee, however, their concerns were incorporated into case studies for the Environment and Development Study.
  • The Inter-Service Unit Network (ISUN), comprising municipal staff and officials from different departments in the DMA, was created to increase awareness and facilitate inter-sectoral work among city officials.

The two groups had similar functions in advising the Project Team on the Environment and Development Study. They were to guide and refine the research process, identify key areas of action, help identify community resources and projects to be integrated, ensure that all sectors of Durban were reflected, champion sustainable development and help formulate an Environment and Development Charter for the city.

The groups instituted key changes to the LA 21 planning process. In particular, they ensured greater community participation and the inclusion of socio-economic issues.

Community-Based Issue Analysis

In Durban, issue assessment and analysis took place in relationship to the Environment and Development Study. It was felt that in order to make sound decisions and policy, it would be necessary to first establish a comprehensive database of environment and development variables. Research to gather the necessary information was undertaken during 1995. Data integration, analysis and writing on the main components-the sector study process, the case study process and information systems took place between December 1995 and March 1996.

The Sector Study Process
The Project Team began the process with a preliminary survey of environment and development issues in the DMA. The issues were divided into ten sectors for the study, eventually increasing to seventeen sectors which included, among others, air, water, housing, education, economy, energy, transport and peace.

Specialist sector panels were convened consisting of a facilitator, specialists and practitioners drawn from academia, local authorities, communities, NGOs and the business sector. The sector panels produced important insights into substantive issues, sources of information, differences of perception and ideas about actions on environment and development problems. 

One of the major criticisms was that the sector panels did not allow for the identification of interlinkage between issues. As a result, a Cross-Sectoral Workshop was held in mid-1995 to ensure interchange and coordination between sectors. This was the first time natural and social scientists, and community and city representatives had been brought together in the DMA. The outlines for an integrated understanding of the state of the environment and development began to emerge, as did a sense of key actions for addressing problems.

Finally, the sector reports underwent an intensive review process, including an internal review by the Project Team and a series of seminars attended by city officials.

The Case Study Process
Community-based knowledge was incorporated into the issue-assessment process through the research and writing of case studies in three representative districts within the DMA. The case studies focused on how people in different residential communities perceive and prioritize environment and development issues, how and by whom they believe action should be taken, and what lessons can be drawn from actions taken for the development of partnerships and negotiation forums. The research included in-depth interviews with community leaders; focus-group discussions with residents; and observation at community meetings and environment and development forums.

Information Systems
A parallel research process to complement the sector and case studies involved collecting population and land-use data. This was entered into a Geographical Information System (GIS) which formed the basis of an environment and development database for the DMA. The final State of the Environment and Development Study compiled all the research and findings in a four-volume document, Durban's Tomorrow Today.

The study resulted in a deeper understanding of the concept of sustainable development and a better understanding of the linkages between issues and sectors and had an impact on phase two of the programme, to assess the social, environmental, and economic aspects of the issues identified.

Community Consultation for Priority Setting

A workshop was held in July 1996 to report on the findings of the State of the Environment and Development Report and to compile a short list of priority actions for phase two of the programme. The second objective was not fulfilled, as the stakeholders present felt the priority-setting exercise should be broadened to include the entire metropolitan area. The Environment Branch subsequently carried out six priority-setting workshops, one in each local council area, with over 100 people participating in total.

At the workshops the concept of LA 21 was explained using slides and posters. The participants were then asked to prioritize the issues that were identified in the Environment and Development Study. A guiding list of priority-setting criteria, included questions such as:

  • Will it make the city healthier, safer, greener, and cleaner?
  • Is there a realistic time period for delivery?
  • Is there sufficient commitment and human capacity to address the problem?
  • Can appropriate financial resources be accessed?
  • Will it improve the quality of the urban environment for future generation?

The participants then ranked the priorities. Top priorities included promoting peace and safety, improving water and sanitation management, developing an integrated housing policy, establishing an organizational structure to coordinate DMA land-use, and institutionalizing the Integrated Environmental Management Procedure of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. Results were publicized through a variety of formats.

Action Planning, Implementation and Monitoring

As a result of the action-planning and implementation phases of LA 21, the metropolitan council embarked on a strategic environmental assessment of the Southern Industrial Basin. As well, the Environment Branch began an environmental education programme in the metropolitan area. 

Outcomes of the MCP

The main outcome of phase one of the process was the first State of the Environment and Development Report for the metropolitan area. Work in this phase formed a solid basis from which to develop policy regarding urban management. Additionally, it spawned a parallel process of developing a strategic assessment to form the basis for a metropolitan strategic plan of Integrated Development Framework (IDF) for all six councils. As a result, environmental sustainability has been included as a key metropolitan development principle and as such, part of a code of conduct for local government.

Lessons Learned from the LA 21 Planning Process

  • Awareness can increase community and political commitment to the LA 21 process. From the beginning numerous initiatives to increase awareness of Durban's LA 21 process were aimed at councillors, local government officials, CBOs and the community. A Community Consultation Workshop held in early 1996 gained extensive community support for the programme.
  • Two separate stakeholder groups can be advantageous. Having two separate stakeholder groups in Durban allowed ISUN to function uninhibited by the tensions that arose between the other groups.
  • Setting of milestones, deadlines and budgets should be done on an incremental basis for greater accuracy and flexibility.
  • A uniform and centralized information system is valuable. Some of the difficulties that Durban encountered during the issue-identification phase related to a lack of primary data. Incompatible data were addressed by developing the GIS system.
  • Materials and concepts need to be presented in an accessible format. Durban found that translating material into Zulu was very beneficial, increasing people's understanding, comfort and ability to contribute to the process.
  • The process requires a full-time coordination. The lack of a full-time project manager in Durban slowed the project down. Similarly, the researcher who was to play an integral role was not brought in until phase one was completed, so had no direct involvement with the process during priority-setting.
  • Adequate information, clear objectives and definition of roles are required for large multi-sectoral groups to be effective. In Durban, the Advisory Committee's difficulties in effectively engaging in the LA 21 planning process stemmed from:
  • problems in grasping the programme's principles and concepts;
  • participation expectations of a kind not previously encountered;
  • infrequent meetings;
  • disparate interests, socio-economic and environmental backgrounds;
  • flux due to political transition; and
  • limited resources (time and finances).
This resulted in an unclear and inconsistent decision-making role and ultimately, in high levels of frustration and mistrust between the Advisory Committee and the Project Team. A smaller group of more committed people on the committee would have been more effective; albeit less representative, it would have improved quality of input and allowed a closer relationship with the Project Team.