Get access

Building a Vision for the Post-Apartheid City: What Role for Participation in Johannesburg's City Development Strategy?



    Corresponding author
    1. School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London UK
    Search for more papers by this author

  • This article is informed by research undertaken as part of a PhD thesis on the politics of city development strategy in Johannesburg. I would like to thank the numerous interviewees who kindly gave of their time for this project. Interviewees are referenced along with their position held at the time of the events described or that of the interview. The research was part funded by the SOAS Fellowship grant and SOAS Additional Fieldwork Award. I am further indebted to Colin Marx and Ida Pape for their incisive comments on this article, as well as Sue Parnell, Edgar Pieterse and Jenny Robinson for earlier thought-provoking discussions. The comments of two anonymous referees are also thankfully acknowledged. I remain, of course, solely responsible for the outcome of the article.

Barbara Lipietz (, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG, UK.



In line with a broader ‘participatory turn’, the collective elaboration of city development strategies (CDSs) has become a leitmotiv in urban development planning, promising to deliver on both democracy-deepening and pro-poor concerns. Yet, this promise reposes on somewhat shaky grounds: much depends on the broader political opportunity structures within which CDSs are attempted. Using Johannesburg's recent experiment with city-wide strategic planning as a case study, this article explores the complex interplay between participatory processes and the broader political machinery of governance. In the messy terrain of late 1990s transition politics, Johannesburg's CDS can be read rather more as an instrument of the ruling ANC party's consolidation of power over the city, than as a ‘genuine’ attempt at collective strategic planning. However, this usurpation of participatory ideals did not entail the demise of equitable or even pro-poor concerns: more formal processes of participation, such as electoral representation and bureaucratic power, ensured the continued meshing of developmental concerns alongside growth imperatives at the heart of the CDS. The ambiguous relationship between newly entrenched routine participatory processes and the most recent — and arguably more equitable — review of the CDS, meanwhile, raises further questions about the actual function of participatory processes in urban governance.


Parallèlement à un ‘virage participatif’ plus large, l'élaboration collective de stratégies de développement urbain (CDS) est devenue une figure imposée de la planification du développement urbain, tenue d'agir en faveur du renforcement démocratique et des pauvres. Pourtant, cette promesse repose sur des bases plutôt instables : en effet, beaucoup dépend des structures d'opportunités politiques dans lesquelles sont lancés les projets CDS. En prenant comme étude de cas l'expérience récente de Johannesburg en matière de planification stratégique urbaine, l'article explore l'interaction complexe entre les processus participatifs et la machinerie politique générale de la gouvernance. Sur le terrain embrouillé des politiques de transition de la fin des années 1990, les CDS se sont révélés être davantage un instrument de consolidation de l'emprise de l'ANC (parti au pouvoir) sur la ville, qu'une ‘véritable’ tentative de planification stratégique collective. Toutefois, cette usurpation des idéaux participatifs n'a pas mis fin aux intérêts pour l'équité ou en faveur des pauvres : des processus de participation plus formels (comme la représentation électorale ou la bureaucratie) ont garanti un tissage permanent des questions de développement aux côtés des impératifs de croissance, au centre des CDS. Pendant ce temps, la relation ambiguë entre les processus participatifs courants établis depuis peu, et le bilan le plus récent — voir plus équitable — des CDS, soulève des questions supplémentaires sur la fonction effective des processus participatifs dans la gouvernance urbaine.