Sustainability and sustainable development as the making of connections : lessons for integrated development planning in South Africa

Muller, Anneke (2006-12)

CITATION: Muller, A. 2006. Sustainability and Sustainable Development as the making of Connections: Lessons for Integrated Development Planning in South Africa. In Cullinan, M., Madell, C. & Watson, V. (eds). Proceedings of the Planning Africa 2006 Conference. www.saplanners.org.za. ISBN 0-620-36402-5. 1210 pages.

Conference Paper

ENGLISH SUMMARY : Africa’s many developmental problems (poverty and environmental degradation) have to be solved in a sustainable way. However, the complex, multi-dimensional concepts of ‘sustainability’ and ‘sustainable development’ (SD) can be interpreted in different and even clashing ways by various interest groups and are often used as ‘spin’ or buzzwords. The many potential meanings include SD as a process or end point/ goal, SD as inter-generational, intra-generational or inter-species equity, SD as separate ecologically or socially sustainable development or as holistic/ integrated economic, social, ecological, institutional, technological and physical development, SD as conservation (the Green Agenda), SD as development (the Brown Agenda); SD as Human Rights (the Red Agenda); SD as Human Development and as democracy/participative development. Even when a certain meaning of SD is promoted (such as for instance SD as inter-generational equity or SD as integration as in many South African policy documents), the practical application of the concept rarely conforms to the meaning that is promoted. One of the conceptions of sustainable development that has the greatest potential for future development in Africa, is that of a collaborative, communicative learning process of ‘making connections’ and linkages between various role-players -experts, disciplines (transdisciplinarity), communities; formal and informal businesses, politicians, officials and civil society (NGOs, CBOs) at local level. ‘Integrated Development Planning’ can potentially play a role in ‘making connections’ and in the construction of local meaning regarding SD. A recent study of completed IDP documents, however, showed a very simplistic and superficial understanding of the concepts of sustainability and SD. These plans also illustrated a lack of knowledge about the theory regarding communicative or collaborative planning and did not try to deal with the underlying conflict regarding the meaning of ‘development’ and therefore were little more than ‘lowest common denominator’ plans. This paper will analyse the meanings given to the concept of SD in IDP documents and from this will recommend some lessons for future planning.

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