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20 March 2018

HSRC’s study on Vuwani yields lessons for citizen engagement and social cohesion

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

Pretoria, Tuesday 20 March 2018 – The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) today released the results of its exploratory study in Vuwani which looked at the drivers of violence and conflict that erupted over municipal boundaries.

To this end, the study aimed to investigate the drivers of violence and conflict over the municipal boundaries in Vuwani. It also aimed to understand the socio-economic and psychosocial impact of the violence on the communities, their learning activities and everyday life.

The community led protests followed the MDB’s 2016 re-determination process which led to the recommendation that the Malamulele and Vuwani municipalities be merged into the Malamulele-Vuwani municipality.

This recommendation came within the context of the mandate of the MDB which conducts municipal determination and redetermination as provided for in the legislation governing municipal redetermination. The Board has been performing this function for the past nineteen years. The results of this redetermination process has seen the number of municipalities being reduced from 843 municipalities in 1999 when the Board was established to 257 municipalities in 2016.

This study conducted by the HSRC yielded many lessons which could assist the Board to improve its processes to ensure an objective discourse on municipal boundary redetermination and its processes.

As part of its methodology, the HSRC research team conducted semi-structured interviews in two phases. 

•    Phase 1 involved a visit to Vuwani six months after the arson attacks on schools and other public destruction of infrastructure in December 2016. Interviews were conducted with two traditional leaders who reflected on the tensions around the re-determination of the boundary and the incorporation of their areas into the new municipality. Nine unstructured interviews were conducted with community members to obtain their views on what had caused the violence.

•    Phase 2 was largely informed by the preliminary findings of the first visits, and was conducted in January-February 2017. This Phase comprised visits to four schools to conduct in-depth interviews with learners  and   principals who witnessed the violence. In addition, six focus groups comprising an average of six learners were also conducted. Apart from the interviews in Vuwani, an interview was conducted with a senior official from the MDB to provide the Board’s perspective on the matter.

From the empirical data collection phases, the following key themes emerged as findings of the study:

1.    Residents did not accept the idea of merging poor communities in the name of financial viability
2.    The people argue that they were not consulted 
3.    There are perceptions that government wanted to please the people of Malamulele
4.    The ethnicity or tribalism question emerged repeatedly in the interviews
5.    There are many reasons for burning of schools and public infrastructure, key among which  the dominant perspective that public infrastructure such as schools are prominent symbols of local governance and therefore fair game to target and destroy in order to ensure that community demands are heard.

Prof Barwa Kanyane, lead investigator on the study reflected on the importance of this exploratory study saying, “The study yielded some important lessons for South Africa’s public engagement and consultation model, foremost amongst which, is that this cannot merely be a compliance exercise.  The process must be authentic and demonstrate a willingness to hear what communities are saying about what is important to them.  This ethos and sentiment should be at the heart of our commitment to public service.”

The Municipal Demarcation Board followed all the necessary legal prescripts for public consultation as was confirmed by the Limpopo High Court in its judgement when the matter between the MDB and Vuwani communities was heard in 2015. Besides that, the question remained as to what else could have gone wrong beyond the responsibilities of the MDB that led to the violent protests in Vuwani.

Join the conversation at #HSRC #VuwaniStudy

Interviews can be facilitated with the research team.

Notes to the Editor
The full report can be accessed at

About the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
The HSRC was established in 1968 as South Africa’s statutory research agency and has grown to become the largest dedicated research institute in the social sciences and humanities on the African continent, doing cutting-edge public research in areas that are crucial to development.

Our mandate is to inform the effective formulation and monitoring of government policy; to evaluate policy implementation; to stimulate public debate through the effective dissemination of research-based data and fact-based research results; to foster research collaboration; and to help build research capacity and infrastructure for the human sciences.

The Council conducts large-scale, policy-relevant, social-scientific research for public sector users, non-governmental organisations and international development agencies. Research activities and structures are closely aligned with South Africa’s national development priorities.

About the Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB)
The Municipal Demarcation Board (MDB) is an independent organization, established in terms of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and the Local Government: Municipal Demarcation Act 27 of 1998 (MDA).
The organization is mandated to determine and re-determine municipal boundaries, delimit wards for municipalities that qualify to have wards, and assess the capacity of municipalities to perform their functions and to render an advisory service in respect of matters provided for in the MDA.

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For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:
Manusha Pillai
Mobile:  082 389 3587

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