Planning as a means of social change:

The Durban Functional Region Forum case

Johan P Strümpfer[1]



This paper describes a regional planning effort that took place in South Africa that contributed to social change in that country. The Durban Functional Region Forum was created in 1988 with the aim of fostering co-ordinated long term planning for greater Durban region. It consisted of a range of participants who engaged in a planning process that continued formally until 1995, 7 years after the initial activities. The dominant concern was negative social, economic and political trends, and the impact that was having on the region. The aim was to develop suggestions on what needed to be done to change the situation around, and to initiate action on these suggestions. The forum used a form of interactive planning to support its interactions, and was participative in nature. This paper describes background to this process and some of the achievements are examined. The process is described and illustrated in terms of its contribution to progressive social change as defined in the paper.



Major changes occurred in South Africa over the last decade in all fields, but particularly in the socio-political fields. This includes a dramatic shift in power relationships and control of government. As in any complex system, the explanation, or even description, of the reasons and dynamics of the change is so complex as to all but defy comprehensive description. At best there are fragmented descriptions and explanations given from selected subjective perspectives. This is also the case in South Africa. Much has been said about the political dimension of change in South Africa, and the underlying factors and developments in this sphere. Yet even these explanations need to be placed into the wider social change context of South Africa, Africa and the world in general.


Changes in this society, specifically the Western orientated component, lagged behind the values and social changes in other, particularly Western orientated countries over the last six or more decades. There are several reasons for this, but one is the relative isolation that this country had from particularly Europe and America some 50 years ago. Technology has shrunk the world, and value system changes everywhere came under more direct and intimate scrutiny with consequent pressures for change. An example will illustrate this.


South Africa is known for its policy of “apartheid”, literally meaning separateness, which was official government policy to separate people on racial basis as far as possible.  This included separation of living places. There is a milieu within which conditions arise that makes this kind of policy thinkable, and popularly this form of government is ascribed to “White” Afrikaner thinking, which came to political power in 1948 (Tongaat-Hulett, 1989).  The implied inference is that this brought about such a milieu. However, the first separate township in South Africa for “Blacks” were established in Port Natal, now Durban, in 1847, when that area was under British control. In a real sense the Nationalist government in 1948 inherited a socio-political paradigm that was widely practised, if not acceptable, say some 50-70 years previously[2].  If South Africa, and particularly the government of the day, had been more exposed to, in the sense of sharing intimately in, these value changes world wide, it is difficult to believe that this policy would have been implemented to the degree that it was.


The policy of apartheid had a peculiar systemic insight to it. From a systemic perspective it was trying to regulate the interaction between different cultures by placing these interactions on the basis of international relationships. Essentially what this meant was that, accepting that interaction between sovereign, but widely diverse, nations are regulated through international norms and agreements, the internal ethnic and cultural differences were to be put on the same basis for governing those international interactions. This logic would then have that the problematic ethnic differences would have a sound (the international) foundation on which to interact. The consequence of this official government policy was to fragment society in numerous and very fundamental ways. All spheres of society were divided, separated and not integrated, in the systemic sense of the word[3]. For example, people living and working in close proximity in the same areas were unable to deal effectively with problems common to the whole area, simply because the necessary joint decision structures were not in place (and often prohibited by law). The result was a policy framework that was disastrous from a systemic viewpoint: It assumed a separable system where there was none[4].


It is useful to describe the progressive social change in South Africa over the last 10 to 15 years from this perspective. This perspective sees in the first place a fragmented society, it sees the lack of shared appreciation (of just about everything), and a lack of  social processes within which such joint learning and decision making could take place. The case presented here, against the framework of social systems change in general, is one factor that helps explain the change that has occurred in South Africa. By itself this particular case did not change South Africa that much, but it was the prevalence of many of these types of processes that did make a difference.


From a systems perspective, progressive social change could be seen as  multi-dimensional. The  dimensions implied in progressive social change are (see Gharajedaghi, 1985):

·      Wealth

·      Knowledge

·      Justice

·      Morality

·      Aesthetics

Progressive social change would require the social system to develop in such a way that all these dimensions are improved, developed, simultaneously. (See Figure 1.) This would be true for any social system,  whether an organisation or a country. The principle is that we cannot really say that a system has developed, if its performance relative to one of these dimensions has changed, with a decrease in the other[5].


In general, within each of these dimensions, it is not simply a matter of having “more”, (for example more justice). It is rather a situation where there is a higher level of consciousness, within each of these dimensions, with respect to:

·      Increased knowledge of where one currently finds oneself, relatively speaking, in the particular dimension, and also of what is possible to achieve;

·      Increased aspirations in terms of what one aspires to within that dimension;

·      Increased ability to act in ways to improve in the direction of “more”.

For example, within the Knowledge dimension of progressive social change, there are three sub-categories, of relative current achievement, aspiration of achievement, and ability to achieve.



Figure 1: Five Dimensions of Progressive Social Change.















Figure 2: Development within each dimension.


The point here is that, within each of these dimensions, a primary contributor to social change has to do with simultaneously developing understanding, aspirations and ability. There is a significant intellectual component to this development.


It is unlikely that this framework for judging development is fully comprehensive, although it is significantly improved over value systems that measure only in the dimensions of wealth or knowledge, for example. It moves away from a more materialistic interpretation of development, and explicitly brings ethical and moral issues such as justice into the measurement. Ultimately however it is still a relative measurement, by looking at where one stands with respect to the environment in which one operates.


Any process aimed at progressive social change should be clear how it will actually move the system to develop in the sense outlined here. The Durban Functional Region process is used here as an example of a process aimed at social change. It is then examined as to its operative assumptions regarding social change in the manner described above. Within this context the type of contribution forum processes can make to progressive social change are examined.



In the last 10-15 years of change in South Africa, the idea of “forums” have increased in popularity and number to the extent that there are few areas of national or regional concern where there is not a forum to be found. My perception is that it is a phenomenon of the social change South Africa experienced. It would not be meaningful to discuss South Africa’s transformation without reference to the “forum” idea and its role in the transition.


What is mostly understood with the concept of a forum is simply a range of interested parties interacting on an issue of mutual concern. Implied in the use of the concept is that the range of participants in the process is wider than has been there before, and even that the issue itself previously fell between organisational chairs. In cases where it may have fallen under the ambit of a particular organisation (normally some part of government), it was likely that the organisation did not have the legitimacy to act for the full range of interested parties. In this country legitimacy did not and does not mean sanctioned or appointed by government. It also had to reflect a value of participative democracy: The process of decision making itself had to be open[6].


Now there were many factors forcing the South African society into the direction of consultative culture in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. One of these was the level of success of the “apartheid” policies: The society was fragmented to such a degree that it lost the ability to deal holistically with its social, economic, and environmental problems, at all levels of society. These problems in itself were becoming reasons for change, but there was another factor that played a role. This was the consultative form of governance and decision making that had been a part of the traditional, particularly rural, culture of Black South African society for a very long time[7]. Needless to say, this heritage was excluded from the paradigm in power, which was nicely modelled on the reductionistic, deterministic paradigm so prevalent in the rest of the “developed” world.


The forum concept when viewed systemically is simply the wider system self-organising. In effect what happened was that the wider (South African) social system was not organised with respect to a wide range of issues. For example, traditionally society organises with various institutions to see to the needs of society at large. What happened in effect in South Africa was that the existing institutions either did not or were not perceived to be serving the wider social interest. The creation of forums was the systemic response to become organised around the required issues, despite the form of governance (separation along racial lines), that was in place. In most cases these forums were created by one or more concerned individuals who took a leading role around some issue of common concern to a range of people[8].


In summary, forums in the South African transformational process can therefore be explained as stemming from amongst others:

·      The need, driven mainly by value changes, to be more inclusive in decision making;

·      The need to create decision making institutions where there were vacuums in governance;

·      The indigenous culture of consultative decision making, rooted in rural Black population, emerged more prominently, perhaps in part because of the increased urbanisation;

·      The very wide range of increasingly pressing practical issues facing all of South Africa.


The Durban Functional Region (DFR) Forum is examined in this light. At the time of its inception, in the latter part of 1988, forums were a foreign concept with very few in actual operation. The DFR Forum was one of the first, if not the first to operate on the scale it did.



Any-one who has looked at a map of the Kwa-Zulu/Natal region of a few years ago must have been struck by unbelievable parcelling up of the region. It is a good example of the success in the “apartheid” principle, where the geographic region was allocated on a racial basis, and each geographically defined political entity then administered its own region. One thing systems thinking is very clear about is the denial that systems are separable. What this meant in this instance was that with the region politically carved up, it did not have the administrative wholeness to be capable of dealing with the manifest social problems of communities that were in direct proximity.  The problems of the different communities were not independent and resolvable through the independent action of the unbelievable range of authorities and administrative institutions under which they fell. The region was (and is) faced with what Russ Ackoff refers to as a mess, or a system of problems all interlinked. What brought this system down to its knees was the failure or reductionistic thinking driven to the extreme.



Figure 3. Map[10] of Kwa-Zulu/Natal  before 1994.


This in essence explains why the DFR Forum came into existence. Botha, one of the primary driving personalities in the Forum, described its creation as:


... ‘a circle of remarkable [people]’ who were convened ... to look holistically at what was happening in the Durban area. Their assessment of the situation has enabled them to comment on where the region is heading and how it can be steered towards a more desirable future. (Botha,1989, p10)


Towards the end of 1988, in order to acquire the insights needed for a shift in logic, [Tongaat-Hulett Group] published an article in The Condenser entitled Durban’s Urgent Challenge. The article looked at the implications of rapid urbanisation, notably the sprawling shack areas or ‘informal settlements’ that surround the city. It concluded that Durban urgently needed a master plan or co-ordinated vision that could take it into the future. Almost all planners, researchers and decision-makers who were interviewed said that the lack of co-ordination was a disaster. It seemed that the administrative split between Natal and Kwa-Zulu areas of the Durban region, and the plethora of authorities, had reduced decision-makers to a state of helplessness. (Botha, 1991, p26)


These comments ascribe the forum creation to the fragmentation of the region. However, the push was the mess (in Ackoff’s meaning of the word) of rapid urbanisation, with a plethora of social, economic and environmental problems resulting from that. However, what must also be understood was the leadership role and motivational drive of people like  Helgaard Botha, a director of planning for one of the subsidiary companies in the Tongaat-Hulett Group of companies,  in making such a process happen.



Botha(ibid.) describes the composition of the forum as such:


Members of the planning forum were drawn from different disciplines and backgrounds and were all chosen for their expertise in their field (political, social, demographic and spatial. The planning forum consisted of 20 people, including representatives from the University of Natal, Tongaat-Hulett, town planners, the Urban Foundation, the church, local government, University of Durban-Westville, Foundation for Leadership Development and the Institute for Futures Research.


These individuals were approached, by essentially a core facilitation group, for participation on an individual basis, i.e. not requested to represent their respective organisations. In many instances this made their participation possible, because if they had to act as representatives for their respective institutions, many would have been inhibited from participation. The net effect was that the Forum had individuals from a wider spectrum of society participating, than would have been the case if they had been “representatives”. This made the influence effect, discussed later, much greater than it would otherwise have been.


The forum in fact had 2 or 3 circles of participation, overlapping but not concentric. The members described above were the inner or think tank core. This circle was more of an expert group than community representatives. The range of affiliations and political conviction within this group was notable extensive for the epoch in which the DFR Forum came into being, and this was a deliberate attempt to openness and inclusivity. Most individuals, in all the circles of participation, were notable in their ability to link with other planning and developmental processes in the region. In many cases they were key people giving input into decision making and planning in their own institutions but also in other arenas of social planning. This gave the Forum its influence effect: It would be fair to say that the Forum had a very high secondary influence ability through this linking. This perhaps was the strongest factor in the Forum’s impact, discussed below..


A second circle of participation was the inclusion of the wider Tongaat-Hulett Group corporate board of directors, or at least many of these individuals. This patently supported their learning and helped them reap the benefits of supporting the Forum. Tongaat-Hulett is a major private concern that funded most of the Forum’s expenses.  Their motivation for support was an ethical judgement and practical concern with what was happening in the region in which they had major financial investments. In many cases they ended up as a victim of ill-conceived and fragmented planning and administration of the uncoordinated if not acrimonious, local political entities.


A third circle of participation was more ephemeral, with the participation of some outsiders (from without the region as well as within the region but without the Forum), and interaction of the Forum members with a whole range of people, including community youth leaders for example, on various occasions. This interaction with a wider group was an ongoing action within the Forum, and not really a fixed form of participation in the Forum itself. It was more an attempt to obtain insight from people and groups not represented on the Forum, and to convey  the Forum conclusions and engender debate on the underlying issues.


The issue of more representative community representation is one of the criticisms that can be levelled at the Forum. Various and ongoing attempts were made to address this. The central or core participant group therefore changed to some extent throughout the process. However, the forum was essentially an influence think tank rather than a direct representative forum where the “community” directly plans for itself. Whilst this can be viewed as an elitist approach, the Forum undoubtedly had an integrating role in the region because of the  range of individuals involved, and the underlying process. It also does not help to criticise the Forum on the issue of representativeness, because the whole activity was initiated to be more integrative and never was intended to replace a (defective) system of government. The value of the Forum lay in the range of individuals, who gave the Forum stature and legitimacy because of the range of views and backgrounds coming together in one opinion forming body.


It needs to be emphasised that the range of views represented in the forum were far wider than most, if not any other, planning process in the region at that point in time. It by no means was a group of like minded individuals. In my view, one of the reasons why this group was at all able to commence functioning with such a diverse set of individuals was that they were not representative. Individuals were on the forum not because they represented a particular organisation or constituency, but in their individual capacity. This removed the threat that participation in the DFR Forum could be regarded as support of the process and findings by “represented” organisations. It also removed the problem of legitimising the Forum from the perspective of the “represented” organisations, because they actually were not represented. (If they had to sanction the participation of their people, it would have given acceptability to the Forum, which many of these institutions politically simply could not have done; in many cases their participation would have implied involvement in an activity that their own official policies were preventing. This would have caused a stillborn birth for the Forum). Therefore, the driving criterion was one of co-opting influential individuals rather than representative members from various constituencies.





The Forum was structured from the start around an underlying process that had to be worked through. This process can be described as a planning process aimed at creating a fundamental learning experience for the participants. The process is illustrated in Figure 4. In brief the process derived from the interactive planning described by Ackoff(1981). In spirit it was Ackovian although the detail differed from that described by Ackoff. Strümpfer(1990) describes the technical details of such a process. A comprehensive description of the process is beyond the scope of this paper, although some aspects are covered in the description  below.



Figure 4. Planning process followed in DFR Forum.


The planning process starts with a participation forming phase, where through a process of negotiation a group is formed. Essentially the idea is to form a “Lockean community” (Churchman, 1971). This form of inquiring system shifts the epistemological burden of determining that it knows, to the composition of the planning group. Any participative process is inherently flawed on this basis, because the burden of proving that such as system knows, requires one to prove  the Lockean community is correctly chosen.  The second phase is forming a consensus description of the current situation. In a very diverse group even the question of what is important in the present situation is by no means clear cut. The purpose of this phase is to build a consensual felt need and motivation for change away from the present situation. This is continued with the next phase, where current trends and situation dynamics are extrapolated into the future. This phase is not a prediction of the future, but rather an exploration of different plausible futures possible given the current situation as well as decisions and action yet to be taken. Schwartz(1991) describes the spirit in which this kind of scenarios are developed. The desired future scenario phase is a deliberate attempt to sketch an ideal, but realistic, future situation. This is used in contrast with the current future scenarios. The desired scenario is used to create a tension between what is foreseen currently, the current future scenarios, and what is seen to be desirable, the desired future scenarios. The last phase is setting out what action and behaviour would be required to close the gap between what is currently in place and what one ideally would like to see in the future.


As indicated in the process model, the second phase of the Forum’s activities was to develop a description of the “current situation” in the region. The formal result was published by Tongaat-Hulett Properties(1989). This phase was one of the longest phases in the process. There are various reasons for this, but they mostly relate to the underlying group dynamics:

·      The group represented diverse views and had not worked together before;

·      Mutual respect and insight had to be built;

·      The current situation focus provided a “safe” environment to develop group consensus building processes and shared value systems;

·      Agreement on how the current situation was to be described and measured was not automatic.


The importance of the current situation report must not be underestimated. Being a product of a group of respected persons of diverse convictions it carried weight in its own regard. Any serious planning effort in that region at that point in time would not have had credibility if it was seen to reject the views expressed in the Forum report. The perceived credibility of the Forum’s output stemmed from the range of participants and their individual influence in society. It provided a basis for planning that had greater acceptability than what other organisations or processes could easily produce. This was so because most institutions involved in regional planning in the Durban area did not have a comparable range of views represented in their planning processes.


For example, I am reminded of one instance where planning activities of the Durban city council were put on hold pending the finalisation of the DFR current situation report. The point is not that they were put on hold, but that they were told by their own participants that the DFR Forum was producing better information than they could hope to get elsewhere, and that that information should be used in their planning. This was done by one of their own members, who was serving on the Forum. A case in point was the population figure, or expected population growth. At that time one could deduce a person’s political inclination by noting what number they gave for the population of Durban: Some numbers excluded the self-governing areas of Kwa-Zulu whilst others tried to show that the actual Durban city population number was comparatively small compared the rest of the overall population in that region. The Forum expended considerable effort to come up with a means to measure population levels (also a politically loaded question), as well as estimates of the demographics. Because the Forum had to resolve these political differences in coming up with a consensus estimate of demographics, had a wider acceptability basis than other estimates. The Forum produced information thus became a basis for planning elsewhere in the region. This is an example of how the Forum influenced actual events by providing individuals involved in other planning activities with an information base better than they could access normally


Another result from this type of process that is difficult to estimate in value is the learning process individuals undergone by participating in the process. At least one individual with an active role in regional planning felt, by his own admission,  that the learning being informed about the situation in Natal/Kwa-Zulu was a requirement for his normal planning activities His organisation in turn was involved in further regional planning and development efforts, so that the indirect influencing effect was far greater than simply  influencing one person. Again the results Forum results were fed into a range of secondary planning processes.


Another example of the indirect influence the Forum produced is as follows; it is at the same time an example of how individual learning gained through Forum participation had a direct bearing on development. The Forum examined, as part of the current situation investigation, which laws, regulations and ordinances controlled and influenced racial segregation and hampered socially integrated development. This issue was well researched and became part of the Forum’s deliberations. Shortly after this was done, one of the Forum members was tasked by Joint Executive Council of Natal/Kwa-Zulu (the then highest provincial government authority), to develop a new provincial ordinance on local authorities. The significance was that the new ordinance had to promote integrated and equitable development, where the Forum already had done its homework about which laws required changing – using a process of consensus building in a group of diverse thinking individuals. The impact that this initial research must have had for the individual involved is inestimable. Again this is an example of how the Forum influenced real outcomes by pro-actively playing its think tank role. Needles to say, it was only the participation of individually influential people that enabled these results to impact the real situation.


As shown in the planning process diagram, scenarios were the third phase of the Forum’s process. In principle this is part of the current situation analysis, in that one assumes that the scenarios reflect the outcome of the current situation as it unfolds into the future, being dependent on decisions and actions yet to be executed. From a technical perspective these scenarios were interesting because they had to postulate national level scenarios first, and within that framework, develop the regional scenarios. The current future scenarios[11] produced, three in the end, were powerful arguments against the continuance of the then current situation. It made it clear that, irrespective of value judgements on the then present situation, the socio-political and economic dynamics were such that a new social order was urgently needed. It confronted people, in a logical manner, with the illogic of a disintegrated (regional) system.


One of the scenarios produced, called the Status Quo scenario, provided very important insight into the underlying dynamics and pressures for change in the country at that time. At the time these scenarios were produced, mid 1989, one of the conclusions from the Status Quo scenario was that the longest that the then present political situation could be sustained, was two years into the future, and that change was likely far earlier. In reality February 1990 proved to be the date, six months after the scenarios were developed, when the then president, F W de Klerk announced in parliament sweeping social and political changes for South Africa. This experience was a very important argument for careful scenario based planning. None of the individuals who understood the scenarios could have been surprised by that kind of change. Although not predicted, the underlying logic of the scenario clearly anticipated such a result. Scenario planning does open up people’s minds to what could plausibly happen to an extent that no other approach really does.


The scenario planning approach also highlighted another unfortunate aspect of the region, namely that violence was endemic and unlikely to disappear as a result of political change. All three scenarios had violence built in; they differed in the degree to which violence played a role in the future. (Subsequent events, eight years after that Forum conclusion, have unfortunately proven this to be accurate.) The pessimistic scenario foresaw the possibility of a regression into armed insurrection curtailed through more official violence. This scenario has not materialised, in due to the sweeping changes that were made in the country.


Another lesson from the scenario planning phase was the stark realisation the best, or most optimistic scenario, was quite undesirable at best. It was shown, for instance, that the population growth was such that even under optimistic assumptions about economic development could result in a net decline per capita wealth. In fact the optimistic scenario was quite dismal. This clearly called for pro-active action to create a better outcome, particularly around initiatives tat would dramatically increase the region’s economic capacity. As a result of this explicit attention was paid to developing a vision for the DFR in the form of a Desired Scenario.


Probably the biggest achievement of the Desired Scenario is the fact that it exists.  It represents a set of values and ideals that could mobilise a wide section of the population. I personally still identify with the ideas contained in the scenario. For example, one of the goals made explicit in that desired scenario, is that a culture of non-violence becomes the norm for problem solving.


The scenarios were published in Tongaat-Hulett(1990)[12].


The final phase of the forum planning process was the development of strategies and action plans for achieving the desired rather than currently expected scenarios. A very wide range of actions and initiatives were identified and formulated. The theme from most of these was to widen the influence of this thinking. Generally the strategies and action plans, published as a separate report (Tongaat-Hulett, 1990b), produced far greater clarity on what should be done within the region. Needless to say, this also represented the Forum’s consensus, as did the other work. As such it was mostly quite meaningful statements on what needed to be done.


One of the direct results of these action initiatives, was the establishment of Operation Jumpstart. This activity was literally aimed at jump starting development in region. Seven DFR Forum members was on the 17 person steering committee of this activity. One can only reflect on the value of the DFR forum process as a backdrop when these individuals had to provide leadership in terms of a wide range of developmental initiatives in the region. Operation Jumpstart had grasped the imaginations of many people in this country; I have often been in situations where Operation Jumpstart was quoted as being a good example of a particular development action. Few realise the importance of the  DFR Forum as a support for this activity.


The Forum’s results had another important by-product for its sponsors, the Tongaat-Hulett Group. The THG produced a land management strategy for its vast holdings that aligned with the implications and values in especially the Desired Future Scenario. Again the extent to which this contributed to regional development is difficult to guess. There can also be no doubt that the DFR Forum information and learning produce an important backdrop for other business and development plans in the Tongaat-Hulett Group. Being an important economic engine in the region, this alone is noteworthy.


We view the DFR Forum considering progressive social change as defined above.


By the nature of the process the DFR Forum contributed most in the knowledge dimension as social change. It was focused on developing understanding of the current situation and what should be done. It played a conceptual leadership role. It is a source of information through its interpretation and presentation of reality. It is creative in the world of ideas, in bringing forward ideals, plans and reasoning that helps to improve the real situation. By placing emphasis on certain problematic areas it ensures that these receive attention from a wider community that may otherwise not have been the case.


The second area of contribution to social change, especially at the inception and pre-NSA (New South Africa) era, was the wider or more integrative participation in planning. Although it was not a representative forum, it was a forum that was integrative across boundaries to a greater extent  than many other planning initiatives of its time. In this sense it did contribute to more freedom in the progressive social change meaning. This would be counted under the justice dimension given above.


A lessor known, but often questioned, contribution was to the ethics of regional planning. At the start of the forum even some of the Forum members described as “enlightened self-interest” the part of the Tongaat-Hulett Group in sponsoring the exercise. The atmosphere and morality of the whole exercise took on a much wider concern when, in response to the “enlightened self-interest” comment, the Group Chairman directed the Forum to consider in their deliberations “what is good for South Africa, and then what is good for [Natal/Kwa-Zulu region] and let Tongaat-Hulett take care of itself”. I believe that the exercise actually put regional planning on a higher moral plane because of the absence of self serving interests behind the Forum’s activities. There is no doubt that THG benefited directly and indirectly from the exercise, but this benefit accrued firstly because of its open participation and wide focus and not through a direct distortion of the planning process itself. I believe a higher level interest was being served than many official planning processes themselves. I therefore believe the THG DFR Forum contributed to the moral dimension of progressive social change.


The aesthetical dimension of progressive social change received a particular boost from the Desired Future Scenario. The ideals described there still holds true and was re-confirmed in a recent review of the Forum output. Of course, having spelled out an idea does not mean it will come about, but it certainly increases the likelihood. For this reason also the Forum focused more on applying itself to action to make this come true, in the years since it published the reports.


There is little doubt that forums in South Africa were part and will be a part of the social transformation. In the end, stripped of the power, political and ideological concerns around participative democracy, one can say that:

·      Forums succeed when there is a high enough concern about a situation that affects wide range of stakeholders directly;

·      Forums can help built shared understanding and alignment with respect to ends and action;

·      Forums becomes a means of organising in situations where there has been a lack of organisation around a particular theme;

·      Obtaining participation in the forum is necessary for success, is very difficult but is not sufficient for success;

·      Forums need to be supported with a deliberate underlying process of collective inquiry.

Possibly the biggest contributor to social change that forums played in this country is the integrative role, in the systemic meaning of the word,  they played.


The Durban Functional Region Forum illustrated every one of these points.


Ackoff, R. L. Creating the Corporate Future: Plan or be Planned For. Wiley, 1981.


Botha HF. Durban: Now and the year 2000. The Condenser, Tongaat-Hulett Group, Durban. 1989.


Botha, HF. Planning with and for your environment: The role of the Tongaat-Hulett Group Limited in Regional Strategic Planning. Institute for Futures Research Occasional Paper No. 19 , Edited K Osler, University of Stelelnbosch, South Africa, 1991.


Churchman, C W. Design of Inquiring Systems. Basic Books, 1979.


Gharajedaghi, J. Towards a Systems Theory of Organisation. Intersystems Publishers, Seaside, California. 1985.


P. Schwartz, The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World. Doubleday/Currency, New York. 1991.


Strümpfer, JP An Approach to Planning. Unpublished paper, Institute for Futures Research, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa. 1993.


Tongaat-Hulett Properties. The Durban Functional Region: Planning for the 21st Century-Report 1: The Current Situation. Durban, 1989.


Tongaat-Hulett Properties. The Durban Functional Region: Planning for the 21st Century-Report 2: Scenarios for 2000. June 1990.


Tongaat-Hulett Properties. The Durban Functional Region: Planning for the 21st Century-Report 3:Strategy proposals for discussion with DFR stakeholders. July 1990.

















(Word count: 6223)


[1] Programme for Systems Management, University of Cape Town, Menzies Building 522, Rondebosch 7700, South Africa. Tel +27-21-650-2600; fax +27-21-650-3240. E-mail jps@engfac.uct.ac.za


An early version of this paper was prepared for the International Conference on Systems Thinking and Progressive Social Change, University of Cape Town, September 1994.


Ó J P Strümpfer, 1994-7.

[2]  To really see the changes in value systems, examine children’s story books originating from the United Kingdom from around the turn of the century, or even later. Tales, roles, gender and race  were carefully blended into an implicit value system that is appears at odds with the value systems that are currently accepted in many cultures.

[3]  Systemically integrated means that the components fit together and interact so as to function as a whole.

[4] The reasoning this far has been that apartheid had a peculiar systemic logic to it (using international relationship norms to govern ethnic and cultural differences),  but that this has a serious systemic flaw (inability to deal with a shared system). This argument does not deny the importance of basic racial discrimination as a root cause for the situation; it only shows that the logic is fatally flawed from a general systems perspective as well. I do not wish to gloss over the fundamental human and ethical disaster that flowed out of this policy framework. Apart from its systemically wrong assumption of a separable system, the policy made the continuation of servitude and exploitation of people possible.

[5]  Even this framework breaks down in extremes: How much loss in wealth weighs up against how much gain in justice? There are many social systems in which there is a clear trade-off of wealth for justice, by the system as a whole. This does not make it “right”, just makes it difficult to be absolute about the meaning of development.

[6] An example is air pollution from the townships, due to the almost exclusive use of fossil fuels (wood and coal) for domestic cooking and heating. This situation existed (and exists to a lessor degree currently) around most major South African cities, The siting of townships involved central government decision making; neither the “White” adjoining town council nor the “Black” township municipality had the ability to deal with the problem separately. The central government environmental affairs department certainly did not have the legitimacy to deal with the problem. Its resolution involves a multifaceted development of these areas. It was exactly these kinds of systemic problems that gave birth to many localised forums in South Africa, people coming together to tackle shared problems.

[7] Black African cultures have a  tradition of “indaba”, collective debate and expression of opinion to form group consensus. This can be interpreted as democratic decision making, even if the selection of leaders was not a democratic election process.

[8] One example was the Middleburg Forum, which modelled on the Durban Functional Region Forum (discussed later). This was started by a person who saw that his role as human resource manager for a company in this town in north-east South Africa. Was doomed unless the town and associated township could be pulled into a collective upliftment programme.

[9]  Durban is a major coastal port in the Kwa-Zulu/Natal region of South Africa. The awkward name Functional Region was a deliberate choice to avoid any nomenclature that would impinge on any existing governmental territory or perceived scope of authority. It was simply too awkward to be claimed by anybody else, whilst denoting the essential focus, namely on all people and areas functionally interacting directly within the greater Durban region.

[10]  The map shows the old South African province, Natal, delineated by the coast and the dashed border lines. Within this area there were 9 distinct areas that fell under the self-governing authority of Kwa-Zulu. The point behind this map is exactly its confusion: Note the seemingly arbitrary borders of the Kwa-Zulu areas, their geographic separation and inter-spersement with the wider Natal area. The finer lines are rivers and transportation lines; note how they cross the different administrative areas, an ecological and economic recipe for disaster.

[11]  In the discussion below they are referred to as the pessimistic, status quo and optimistic scenarios. A fourth, desired future scenario, was produced in the fourth phase of the planning process. Schwartz(1991) describes scenario development in the current future scenario fashion used here. The desired scenario is a more deliberate attempt to describe a future situation significantly better than that foreseen under the current situation.  

[12]  Interested readers can contact the author for copies.


This site was last updated 2006-10-16