Between Community Protest and Community Trust

Work thumb

Views: 232


This article aims to demonstrate that community-based service delivery protests in South Africa may be viewed as community reactions to local government decision-making processes rather than the outcomes of those decisions. Reasons for service delivery protests in literature range from unfulfilled government promises to the lack of inadequate services especially in poorly resourced areas where there is deprivation and inequality. However, evidence from research on service delivery protests in South Africa also point to an often nominally highlighted yet inadequately expounded reason: the lack of trust communities have in their local authorities’ decision-making processes. This article takes a transdisciplinary approach to participatory governance at the local government level by exploring psycho-sociological dimensions of public participation in local government. Using conceptual and empirical literature evidence on trust and procedural justice as well as South African community protest cases, the article finds that citizens may accept unfavourable outcomes if they perceive the processes as fair and their treatment as respectful and dignifying. The findings suggest that contingent on the trust environment, procedural justice plays an important role in a local community’s reactions to unfavourable service delivery outcomes. Reciprocally, these perceptions of unfair procedures have the capacity, over time, to break down trust where they exist. These findings have implications for strengthening participatory governance processes and expanding community access to and experience of local government decision-making. The article concludes that ensuring procedural justice in local government decision-making processes is a requirement for building community trust and minimizing community predispositions for service delivery protests in South Africa. The article provides recommendations for local government research and practice on procedural justice and community protests.