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Spatial justice: Accountability through collaboration and confrontation

Written by the Socio-economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI), Chapter 5 of the 2017 State of Local Governance publication discusses and analyses different organisational methods of engaging the state, supporting greater collaboration with the state and greater state accountability within the broader context of social and spatial justice. 

Approaches adopted by social justice organisations are often characterised as either primarily ‘collaborative’ in that their strategies aim to build collaborative relationships between government, citizens and civil society, or as ‘confrontational’ in that they aim primarily to activate citizens to hold government accountable. These approaches and strategies can however be interwoven, and while both are necessary, neither is sufficient to improve accountability to social justice imperatives, or to enhance the agency of communities to hold duty bearers to account. By interweaving public interest litigation, applied research and policy advocacy, SERI employs a combination of confrontational, cooperative and complementary strategies to improve social and spatial justice.

This chapter begins by locating accountability within the context of social and spatial justice. It then discusses different methods of engaging the state in order to advance accountability through the lens of a “4C” (Confrontational, Complementary,Cooperative and Co-opted) model. It then sets out examples of relevant methods: the Chung Hua Mansions case as an example of a confrontational method; the application of the findings of the Spatial Mismatch research report as a complementary method, and SERI’s submission on the City of Johannesburg’s Special Process for the Relocation of Evictees (SPRE) as a cooperative method. The chapter then analyses how confrontational, complementary and cooperative methods can be used together or separately to advance accountability, and concludes with a reflection on lessons, implications and risks.

Written by: Edward Molopi and Tiffany Ebrahim

A copy of Chapter 5 can be downloaded below.


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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.