However, these opportunities have been constrained by a global and national neoliberal policy environment (Sanders & Chopra 2006, Sangoco et al., 2009). These include the shift from an initial reconstructive and economic development programme advocating growth through redistribution, to a conservative neo-liberal strategy which advocates for the streamlining of state functions and expenditures, privatisation, and deregulation of the financial sector (Chopra & Sanders, 2004).
South African local government has a legal framework aimed at positively reinforcing democracy and social and economic delivery. Despite this, countless problems are encountered when dealing with the urban challenges (Robins 2002). Constraints include limited resources, poor urban management and the absence of effective urban governance (Beall et al 2000), which are exacerbated by the non-payment by the poor of rent and levies for water and electricity (Robins 2002). There is also pressure on local government to become ‘entrepreneurial’, replacing equity with efficiency. This has led to a growth in privatisation, resulting in short term gains, an increase in costs of basic services, further inequities as most private investment goes to the wealthier suburbs, and consequently an adverse impact on public health (Chopra & Sanders, 2004). A clear example is the management of water and sanitation where the emphasis on cost recovery and the introduction of prepaid water and electricity meters have impacted on people’s ability to use the services. Chopra and Sanders (2004) cite an incidence of a cholera epidemic being traced to people who had resorted to polluted river water after being unable to afford the tariffs for purified water (Deedat and Cottle, 2002, in Chopra and Sanders 2004).
Attempts to develop partnerships to tackle the range of problems have been mixed. While there are some encouraging examples, there are inherent tensions within the concept of partnership that limit their effectiveness. These include power differentials among partners - such as those among government, private sector agencies, NGOs and community partners - which determine the nature and extent of interventions; bureaucratic systems and divisions within and between organisations which hinder collaboration; external pressures, including national, donor or commercial priorities which can dominate agendas; and mistrust between partners based on the above (Stern & Green, 2005, PHM 2002). Aspirations for community participation have also been dashed. Buccus et al (2008) argue that despite the supportive legislative framework, there is limited commitment to meaningful participation.