Since the late 1990s the South African state has placed a large emphasis on the restructuring of local government to be more participatory, and the creation of ward committees was one outcome of this process. Simultaneously there has been a rise in social movements which serve to represent the needs of the poor and marginalised who have seemingly been ignored by the state’s neoliberal policies. This paper focuses on a local government ward committee (WC) and a social movement organisation (SMO)–the Thembelihle Crisis Committee (TCC)–within the context of the Thembelihle informal settlement in Johannesburg. The former is an ‘invited participatory space’ which has been created by the state to invite residents to participate. The latter is an ‘invented participatory space’ created from below by the grassroots, through which residents assert their agency as active community members.
Many scholars have conceptualised these participatory spaces as separate and distinct. Subsequently, ‘invited spaces’ were labelled as pseudo-democratic, state controlled, and hence there was the suggestion that they should be abandoned, while ‘invented spaces’ were perceived as more accurately reflecting the views and needs of the poor in South Africa. More recently, scholars such as Claire Bénit-Gbaffou and Mkwanazi (2015), and Luke Sinwell (2012) have begun to argue that the binary of invited and invented is too simplistic. They have urged that we look more closely at the relationship between these two spaces as opposed to setting them apart.
This paper attempts to argue that invented spaces can contest the invited spaces of the state. The concept of contesting ‘invited space’ will be used to reconsider invited spaces by more accurately analysing the interface of the ‘invited’ and the ‘invented’. By analysing how and where the two meet, we begin to see what happens when a powerful SMO inserts itself onto the invited space of a ‘second generation’ ward committee.