Learning Case – Youth participation in local government, South Africa

This scenario relates to the right of youth to participate in local government and introduces a case of land and water pollution in the Municipality of Lower Valley, which intersects with a variety of rights – (1) right to participate, (2) right of access to food and (3) right to a safe environment. The Municipality is in a dilemma and unsure of whether to continue to use only ward committees for the purposes of consulting the public or to explore alternatives that may help bring youth’s voices on board. If the Municipality continues to use ward committees as public participation for soliciting citizens’ views, it risks excluding the youth, given that these structures often do not ‘talk’ to them or their needs. The Municipality is also facing the difficult task of whether to reprioritise money that was allocated to developing sports and youth centres to fund cleaning and rehabilitating polluted land and rivers.

The Teaching Case encourages practitioners to approach a complex and urgent environmental health issue on the basis of a human rights-based approach. The main lesson from this case is that while the right to a safe environment and the right to access food are important, they should not be pursued at the expense of the right of residents of the municipality, in particular the youth, to participate in municipal affairs. A path forward will lie in establishing mechanisms to involve the youth in municipal affairs in ways that that are more creative and responsive than the standardised public participation mechanisms.