This paper looks at social change in South Africa, highlighting the disjuncture between constitutional provision for community participation in local government and the absence of such institutional space, bureaucratic orientation and political will to introduce, create, foster and maintain appropriate spaces/opportunities for participatory democracy at grassroots level. It documents specifically the story of Areas Co-ordinating Teams, (ACTs) in historically black ghettos of Cape Town, using open-ended interviews and structured questionnaires to ascertain the levels of understanding, co-operation and commitment to community participation in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of projects. The paper is made up by a number of sections which highlight different aspects of ACTs. The first locates ACTs within the socio-economic and political dynamics of the city. This is followed by an outline of the constitutional and related statutory frameworks that underpin the concept and practice of community participation in local government. The remaining sections of the paper discuss the direction of ACTs as well as their benefits and disadvantages. The paper concludes with some of the main findings and suggestions as to how community participation could be promoted and become embedded in local governance:| ACTs constitute good public policy and should be encouraged as they create institutional space and opportunities for individuals, communities, Council administration and elected representatives to discuss issues;| In practice, however, ACTs are a structural failure as they are non-binding, the Council is not obliged to follow up issues raised through ACTs, and individual officials and Councillors are not obliged to attend scheduled meetings.| Hence, for ACTs to become effective instruments of social change Councils must support them by passing appropriate by-laws and by drawing up a code of conduct that compels officials to take these initiatives seriously.