Planners in Politics
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Planners in Politics

Do they Make a Difference?

Edited by Louis Albrechts

In this innovative book, ten executive politicians with backgrounds in planning from around the world dissect their own political careers. Reflecting on the often structural impact of their work in political decision-making, they also consider the translation of their experiences back into academic life or professional practice.
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Chapter 8: Struggling to make a difference: fighting the apartheid racial order in local governance and planning

Michael Sutcliffe


The transformation of local government and planning in South Africa has been, and still will be, a long journey. This paper provides some background for the way in which my political activism, professional planning/geographic work and local governance focus intersected in some of the positions I have held, including as a graduate student at Ohio State University (1978–1982); as a Professor of Town and Regional Planning and leader in some developmental NGOs in the 1980s fighting the apartheid state (1982–1991); whilst an elected political office bearer focussed on the constitutional and legislative provisions for particularly local governance in the new democratic state (1994–1999); as Chairperson of the Municipal Demarcation Board appointed by President Mandela (1999–2009); whilst City Manager in eThekwini (Greater Durban) (2002–2011); and as a director of City Insight (Pty) Ltd (2012 to date), working with local governments facing developmental challenges, and sharing experiences with Palestine, Libya, India and various African countries. The paper reflects on how planning has made a difference in my work spaces, allowing for a better appreciation of: the indivisibility of politics and planning; the importance of building organizations and institutions through planning; the importance of technology and planning skills in support of the oppressed; ways in which planning is democratized when there is easier access to information; that setting agendas is critical in plan making and taking; that the technical–political continuum requires firm leadership and that planners have great opportunities to be involved in policy and implementation programmes.

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