Rebuilding Public Confidence Amid Gang Violence: Cape Town, South Africa, 1998-2001


Violence in neighborhoods on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa, escalated in the late 1990s. In areas like Manenberg and Hanover Park, gangs dominated community life, interrupted the delivery of public services, and in some instances threatened civil servants working in housing offices, medical clinics, and libraries. Following the African National Congress’s victory in the first democratic local government elections in 1996, city officials sought new ways to reduce the impact of the gang presence on the delivery of community services. Ahmedi Vawda, executive director of the Directorate of Community Development (called ComDev), and his team thought that the only ways to succeed were to build confidence among residents—thereby increasing their resolve in standing up to the gangs—and to lower the attraction this way of life had for young people. By giving a greater voice to residents, including greater discretion over service delivery, the team hoped to build social capital and gradually enlarge the space under public control. The ComDev team mapped the economic and social challenges facing the most-vulnerable communities and created Area Coordinating Teams (ACTs) that enabled local organizations to play major roles in governance. These forums increased community understanding of local government responsibilities—along with the community’s role in development—by identifying areas where municipal funding could support community initiatives. Although the ACTs did not take direct action against the gangs, in the neighborhood of Manenberg they provided a space for local participation in development projects and laid the foundation for progress by soliciting local feedback for city services, by asserting the presence of government in previously insecure areas, and by restoring a degree of community confidence.

 Richard Bennet drafted this case study on the basis of interviews in Cape Town and Pretoria, South Africa, in March 2011. Case published May 2012.
Area Coordinating Teams
local leadership
Cape Town
community-based organizations
local government
community participation
public services
community policing
Focus Area(s)
City Management
Critical Tasks
Building citizen support
Community policing
Informal settlements
Making services accessible
Municipal centers of government
Overcoming corruption
Revenue generation
Core Challenge
Credibility (trust)
Country of Reform
South Africa
Case Studies
Richard Bennet