History Matters: Exploring Women's Political Representation in Post-Apartheid KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

  • Sithembiso Myeni

Student thesis: Phd


The main aim of this thesis is to examine the processes and procedures for promoting local government democracy in post-apartheid South Africa. This study principally investigates the extent to which local government reforms empower women in local politics, given the context, constraints and contested discourses in the historical meaning of "women‟, as well as the history of institution making in South Africa. In order to achieve this, the study explores local government reforms processes‟ contribution to the nature of women‟s political participation and representation in local politics. The study further explains the relationship between political parties‟ and that of government in the participation of women in local politics. Lastly, the study identifies ingrained factors shaping women‟s participation in local politics prevalent in spite of reforms. The study has adopted an institutionalist approach and uses critical theory in order gain deeper insights about women‟s participation and representation in local politics. The study adopts a qualitative research strategy, due to the fact that it favours particular instruments that are suited to explore some of the experiences and practices of the main actors involved in local politics. It triangulates both secondary and primary sources of data gathered in South Africa. In-depth interviews were conducted with 30 interviewees from two selected municipalities in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, and two sampled political parties as an endeavour to obtain a diversity of viewpoints about the political reforms. Furthermore, the secondary data from government sources and political parties‟ sources was used. Archival research was complemented with municipal reports and policies in order to establish the relationship between national directives and local implementation on institutional development. These methodological approaches were used due to the fact that they highlight the multiplicity and diversity of political institutions that exist even at local level. The findings show that there are political spaces opened through reforms for women to participate in political processes in local government politics. The study found that there are local municipalities led by women mayors and some were under women‟s political leadership from the beginning -- following the second reorganisation of local government. Nonetheless, the levels of state (national, provincial and local) and diverse interests of societal actors in local politics challenged the democratisation processes. Basically, the government has contradictory dominant roles in the reform processes. However, societal actors, which comprise political parties and traditional authorities influence reforms (in) directly. Further findings show contradictions among institutions, which favours other actors in local politics, while restricting women‟s long-term political careers. Overall, this study concludes that the reform process has achieved the objective in opening political spaces for women in local politics. However, these new spaces in a post-apartheid society seem to be depoliticised, which eclipses how the political system remains prone to the influence of multiple discourses of liberation, as well as the partial historical convergence of interests at the local political level.
Date of Award31 Dec 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorSarah Bracking (Supervisor) & Tanja Müller (Supervisor)


  • Women's Participation and Representation, Transition Politics, Decentralisation, Democratisation, Traditional Authorities, Land
  • KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, Jozini Municipality, Ubuhlebezwe Municipality

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