By William Gumede
First published on Democracy Works

The impact of having a robust civil society in South Africa has played a critical role in creating a vibrant democratic culture and addressing the gap between the state and local communities. This policy brief examines the successes and challenges in furthering engagement, holding public officials accountable and consolidating democracy.


South Africa’s civil society organisations have increasingly become the last line of defence fighting on behalf of ordinary citizens against out-of-control corruption, public service delivery failure and abuse of power by elected and public representatives.

The collapse of apartheid was a success story of global and local civil society pressure against the apartheid government. South Africa’s civil society landscape is much more diverse, dynamic and assertive in holding government accountable, fighting corruption and supporting democracy and democratic institutions, than in many comparable developing countries.

South Africa’s model constitution gives a special place for civil society to play an oversight role over democratic institutions, monitor human rights and to give citizens, especially the poor, vulnerable and excluded, the tools to know and assert their rights.

In South Africa, civil society groups have in the post-1994 era continued to hold the democratic government to account. However, upholding democratic rights has often come at a price. Anti-democratic elements within the ANC government have often frowned upon civil society organisations and activists actions to hold government and leaders accountable, demanding they be proscribed, and alleging they are fronts either for apartheid-era groups or foreign enemies (David Mahlobo 2017).

A number of individual society activists have been murdered while fighting for democratic rights, including anti-mining activist Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe. The chairperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee was assassinated in 2016, for opposing mining on the environmentally sensitive Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape (MacDonald and le Cordeur 2016). Many civil society organisations have seen their government funding, support, and contracts withdrawn for being critical of government.

Civil society has deposed two sitting South African presidents

The power of South African civil society has been demonstrated by it extraordinarily been in part responsible for forcing out two ANC and South African presidents since 1994 – both former Presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, when they behaved undemocratically. Many ANC members have long stayed quiet, defended those implicated under the wrong-headed principle of “unity”, and attacking those who point out the corruption as somehow “agents” of white monopoly capital, “imperialists” or fomenting factionalism (Vavi 2012; Heywood 2017; Mahlobo 2017).

It was only consistent mobilisation by civil society organisations that compelled many ANC members and leaders to act against former president Jacob Zuma and many other elected leaders and public servants alleged to have been involved in corruption. Civil society organisations mobilised for long against former ANC and South African president Jacob Zuma, for his involvement in alleged corruption, manipulation of public institutions for self-enrichment and collapsing public services.

Civil society organisations took Zuma to court over the multiple incidents of corruption and manipulation of state institutions for private gain. Again, ANC critics of Zuma leveraged the civil society mobilisation against him, to campaign to prevent Zuma getting his handpicked successor, his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma taking over from him, and eventually forced him to resign as state president.

Former ANC and South African President Thabo Mbeki faced long-running civil society opposition for his refusal to make HIV/Aids medicines available at public hospitals, his perceived lack of consultation and marginalisation of critics. Mbeki’s critics in the ANC surfed the way of anti-Mbeki mobilisation by civil society organisations to mobilise and prevent him from being re-elected as ANC president at the 2007 Polokwane national conference.

Civil society organisations have provided public services in the face of state failure

South Africa’s civil society has provided public services in many instances of public service delivery failures across the country. Civil society organisations such as the Johannesburg Welfare Society, the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders (NICRO) and Cotlands provide essential basic services, where the state is often absent.

In this way, civil society organisations have strengthened the capacity of the South African state. In fact, without these organisations providing public services, South Africa’s public service delivery crises would be considerably worse, with more violent protests and disruption.

Civil society groups such as the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) had spent decades successfully fighting for HIV treatment and access to medicines. The TAC has also pioneered patient-treatment education. “Civil society brought the notion for the first time that people with diseases, people living with HIV should be consulted and should be part of planning and be part of the medical response”, said Mark Heywood (2017), one of the leaders of the TAC.

The TAC successfully brought the case to the Constitutional Court that the government should reverse its policy on not providing anti-retroviral medicine to HIV/Aids infected patients at public hospitals. The Constitutional Court on 5 July 2002, ruled in favour of the TAC upholding the “constitutional right of all HIV positive pregnant women to access healthcare services to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV”.

Civil society organisations have gone to court to challenge lack of public service delivery. Section27 in 2012 secured a court order from the North Gauteng High Court compelling the Limpopo provincial government to urgently deliver outstanding textbooks to schools, on a delivery time-line and a delivery backlog catch-up plan. However, by the time the school year had ended, the Limpopo Department of Education had missed the court deadline.

Civil society organisation have pushed for the implementation of critical socio-economic rights, such as the right to housing, health, food and social welfare, which have not fully been realised. In 2000, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) and a group of civil society organisations, in what is now referred to as the Grootboom case, successfully petitioned the courts to order government to provide housing “for people with no access to land”.

Civil society groups have successfully used the constitution, the bill of rights and the judiciary to press for democratic rights, freedoms and equality, and quality public services for the poor, vulnerable and excluded. Organisations, such as Section27, took up the fight on behalf of the families, when 140 mentally ill patients, because of negligence by the Gauteng provincial Health Department, who moved patients to the care of NGOs without the skills, funding or resources to look after them.

Retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke (2018), who chaired the arbitration hearings into the deaths, ordered that the Gauteng Department of Health pay R1.2m in damages to each of the families who lost a loved one during the tragedy.

Civil society organisations have fought to defend the constitution, democratic institutions, and values

Civil society organisations have defended the constitution in instances where public and elected representatives deliberately contravened it, and when opportunists blamed the constitution for specific government failures. Organisations such as the Council for the Advancement of the Constitution (CASAC), have successfully fought breaches of the constitution by elected and public officials in the courts.

Many corrupt officials and elected representatives have often falsely claimed that the constitution undermines “transformation” when it is often government failure, self-enrichment, and corruption that undermine securing transformation objectives. In other instances, if a corruption fighter or diligent public or elected official is black, he or she is accused either of being “puppet” of “whites”, “white monopoly capital” or foreign “imperialist” countries.

Civil society organisations have courageously fought to counter such “post-truth” smears, which could, in a country with its large illiteracy rate, a captured public broadcaster which is the largest source of news for most disadvantaged communities and past apartheid legacy of black oppression by whites, unscrupulous big business and the abetting of the apartheid government by Western countries, undermine the credibility of genuine rights activists.

Civil society organisations rallied behind then Public Protector Thuli Madonsela when she was under attack by opportunists who falsely claimed she was an agent of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for her conscientious investigations of corruption. Civil society organisations have also stepped in to support democratic oversight institutions and public officials who were under attack because they upheld the constitution and performed their public duty conscientiously.

Civil society organisations such as the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI), the Right2Know Campaign (R2K) have pushed for access to information from government, as a crucial right that enables other human, democratic and socio-economic rights. Civil society organisations have also fought for the right to freedom of expression, to protest and to dissent. In a society where patriarchal social, cultural and traditional norms encourage conformity, even if false, deference to authority, even if these are autocratic and often solidarity based on race,  often means supporting corrupt leaders, simply on the basis of their blackness or whiteness.

Civil society organisations such as the Support our Public Broadcaster (SOS) campaign have fought to stop the turning of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), from a public broadcaster into a state broadcaster controlled for partisan interest by the ANC government or a faction thereof, just as it was under the National Party of apartheid.

It has pushed for greater public participation, transparency and meritocracy in the appointment of the board and the executive management of the SABC. Additionally, it has fought run-away corruption, pathological governance failures and cronyism which have destroyed the credibility of the SABC. Civil society organisations will have to push, however, for civil society to be consulted on editorial policy on news coverage, content and governance. Furthermore, civil society must ensure for a change in broadcasting law to make it possible for ordinary citizens, communities and civil society to have a strong say on board appointments to the SABC, and that board appointments are not controlled by the president and the governing party, as it is now.

Civil society organisations have pushed for the scrapping of undemocratic laws

Some civil society organisations have managed to get laws struck off because they are unconstitutional. The shack-dweller movement Abahlali baseMjondolo in 2009 successfully petitioned the Constitutional Court to have a section of a provincial law, Section 16 of the KwaZulu-Natal Elimination and Prevention of Re-Emergence of Slums Act, declared in contravention of the constitution (Constitutional Court of South Africa 2009).

Abahlali baseMjondolo had insisted on the mandatory public hearings, participation and discussion of the bill. Although the KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislature agreed to allow public participation, it dismissed out of hand Abahlali baseMjondolo’s proposals.

Section 16 gives the KwaZulu-Natal provincial MEC the authority to force municipalities and private landowners to evict informal residents on their property. In many cases, municipalities and private landowners allow the desperate to temporarily squat on their land. Section 16 of the KwaZulu-Natal Elimination and Prevention of Re-Emergence of Slums Act, wants to prohibit this practice, arguing that it encourages the mushrooming of informal settlements. Section 16 of the Slums Act originates from the apartheid 1951 Prevention of Illegal Squatting Act, which compels landowners to evict illegal informal settlements, whatever their circumstances.

Abahlali baseMjondolo initially challenged the Act in the Durban High Court, asking, was the Act meant to regulate housing or land tenure (land is a national prerogative), and whether the province or the national government had the legislative power to enact the law, and whether Section 16 is unconstitutional.  The Abahlali baseMjondolo case was dismissed by the Durban High Court.

Constitutional Court Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke (2009) found that the Slums Act covers housing and falls within the powers of the province. However, Moseneke found that Section 16 equates the abolition of informal settlements as evicting people living in such settlements, and argued that keeping the section would allow municipalities and private owners to willy-nilly evict people with no regards for their basic rights, under the guise of preventing the formation of slums. Moseneke pronounced Section 16 as unconstitutional.

Civil society organisations have challenged out-of-control corruption

Civil society organisations have tenaciously fought public and private corruption. In 2012, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) initiated the establishment of Corruption Watch, a dedicated organisation to fight public and private corruption, to “move the national conversation about corruption from resignation to action” (Lewis 2012). “Corruption Watch will expose the corrupt and the misuse in particular of public money” (Lewis 2012).

Civil society organisations, from across the ideological spectrum, under the banner United Against Corruption, from 2015 onwards marched against rising public corruption. Civil society organisations have gone to court to challenge corruption. The Black Sash, South Africa’s famous liberal civil society organisation which fought human rights abuses during apartheid, took Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini to court for irregularly using a company with ties with governing ANC leaders, to pay social grants to the poor on behalf of government. The Constitutional Court called for a public inquiry to investigate irregularities in the contract – which is currently taking place.

Civil society organisations have galvanized ordinary citizens to take to the streets in public protests, in the form of marches, petitions and online discussions against corruption in numbers not seen since apartheid. The media has kept corruption on the agenda, exposed corruption and continued to stay with stories.

Civil society organisations kept both corruption scandals on the public agenda by organising public protests, putting pressure on the police and public prosecuting authorities to investigate, petitioning democratic institutions to hold former President Jacob Zuma and public officials alleged to have been involved in corruption to account, and launching court actions for remedies when everything else failed.

Where corrupt police and prosecutors have been reluctant to probe corruption by politically-connected officials, ordinary citizens and civil groups have gone to court to compel them to do so. Early in 2018, the Public Service Association (PSA), a trade union for public servants, launched their own investigation into the Steinhoff company, following accounting irregularities there which wiped off the value of shares, and caused massive losses for South African pension funds heavily invested in the company.

In 2016, the civil society group Freedom Under, took the Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions Nomgcobo Jiba and the National Prosecuting Authority’s Specialised Commercial Crime Unit head Lawrence Mrwebi, to court for allegedly squashing corruption investigations of Zuma and allies, manipulating law enforcement agencies and targeting officials investigating corrupt activities of people allied to Zuma. The High Court in Pretoria found both Jiba and Mrwebi were not “fit and proper” to hold office. The court ordered they be struck off the roles as advocates (High Court of South Africa 2016).

Civil society organisations have encouraged whistleblowing, in a society which traditionally frowns on the practice. The case of Solly Tshitangano, the former Acting Chief Financial Officer in the Limpopo Department of Education, who in 2012 was fired, instead of praised, when he exposed corruption in the supply and delivery of textbooks is a case in point (CASAC 2012).

Corruption Watch in 2012 launched a secure portal for evidence-based whistleblowing of corruption, for citizens. In 2017, the South African Council of Churches (SACC) encouraged whistleblowers to speak to it in confidentially and to report incidents of corruption in a safe space.

The South African Council of Churches (SACC) in May 2017 released a devastating report on grand corruption based on evidence from whistleblowers. The SACC had for a year prior, launched what it called the “Unburdening Panel Process” in which it provided a safe space for whistleblowers of corruption to report incidents of corruption.

Civil society organisations have fought against sexist, homophobic and racist public attitudes

South African civil society has also fought hard to change archaic sexist, homophobic and racist public attitudes which go against the constitution. On 7 July 2007, two lesbian women, Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Masooa were murdered in Meadowlands, Soweto, for being lesbian. In April 2008, Eudy Simelane, a player for South Africa’s national women’s football team Banyana Banyana, was murdered for being lesbian. South Africa has liberal laws on gender equality, freedom of sexual orientation and allowing single-sex marriage. However, day-to-day archaic, illiberal and prejudiced attitudes prevail, undermining these rights. For example, there is still an astonishing widespread belief that “corrective rape” of lesbian women would “cure” them.

Civil society organisations mobilised against the deaths of Sigasa, Masooa and Simelane by launching the “07-07-07 Campaign”, to fight homophobia. As Emily Craven (2017), the coordinator of the campaign wrote, that the initiative brought the rights of the LGBTI community into the public spotlight, in a society where violence against women has sadly become everyday, it’s forced courts to acknowledge homophobia as a motive in the murders of lesbian women, and led to the creation of the National Task Team on LGBTI hate crimes.

In 2016, South Africa aligned itself with African countries in the United Nations General Assembly to oppose the appointment of an Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity by the UN Human Rights Council. However, South African civil society organisations sent an open letter to then Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, asking the department for SA to break from the conservative African lobby and adopt a pro-gay rights stance in line with the country’s democratic constitution.

South African civil society organisations who signed the open letter included Sonke Gender Justice, Gender Dynamix and Lawyers for Human Rights. The South African government then switched to at the UN General Assembly vote in favour of the appointment of the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity by the UN Human Rights Council.

South African civil society have for many years opposed the Traditional Courts Bill first introduced in parliament in 2008, and which directly affects more than 14 million rural South Africans (Department of Justice and Correctional Services 2016). The bill was first introduced in Parliament in 2008, but was withdrawn following civil society opposition. It was reintroduced in 2012, but expired in 2014, following civil society-driven opposition in the National Council of Provinces.

The bill undermines gender equality, deprives women and rural citizens of their constitutional rights, and makes traditional leaders more equal than ordinary citizens. It essentially formally introduces two legal systems in South Africa: one of the formal constitution, democratic institutions and values such as gender equality, which would be applicable to those living in urban areas; and customary law, where women are less equal than men, traditional leaders have super powers, and where rural dwellers under the jurisdiction of the traditional courts, cannot access the rights in the democratic constitution, laws, and values.

The bill introduces traditional courts in the rural areas, where women cannot represent themselves, only senior traditional leaders can preside over these courts, and a “subject” cannot opt out of the jurisdiction of the courts. The bill formally entrenches patriarchy, the subordination of women and gender discrimination.

Furthermore, the bill introduces punishments including those found “guilty” to provide free labour, the withdrawal of their customary entitlements such as the use of communal land and banishment from the community.

The bill empowers traditional leaders to make, implement and adjudicate on laws, in contravention to South Africa’s democratic principle of separation of powers between those who make the laws, implement them and those who adjudicate over disputes of the laws. Civil society organisations under the Alliance for Rural Democracy, included the Rural People’s Movement, Sonke Gender Justice and the Treatment Action Campaign. Civil society organisations embarked on awareness campaigns in the rural areas explaining to vast numbers of illiterate rural dwellers how the bill will decimate their basic constitutional rights.

Sindiso Mnisi, a researcher at UCT’s Law, Race and Gender Unit said: “This bill creates separate categories of citizenship reminiscent of apartheid. It strips rural people of basic citizenship rights. Those living in the former Bantustan areas will be second-class citizens, with no right to legal representation and recourse the law allows for” (Powell 2012). The bill was developed in consultation with traditional leaders, rather than ordinary citizens and civil society organisations.

The Traditional Courts Bill is now back before parliament for the third time, now with slight improvements, but which still undermines democracy. Civil society organisations will have to continue the fight to scrap the bill in its entirety so that all South Africans are governed by one democratic set of rules, the country’s constitution.

Civil society organisations have blocked unilateral policies

South African civil society groups, such as Earthlife Africa and the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (Safcei), have tenuously fought government’s attempt to build new nuclear power stations, embark on nuclear procurement in secret without public consultation and to make information related to the nuclear building programme publicly available.

Safcei spokesperson Liz McDaid said, “We are taking government to court – not on whether we should do nuclear or renewables – but actually about how decisions are made in the country” (Le Cordeur 2016). McDaid said, “Keeping key decisions secret for two years and actually following a procurement process without following the Constitutional cost-effective, equitable, fair process, means we are losing our democracy. Decision-making in the country is now being reduced to benefits for the elite, with everyone else paying with no schools, no hospitals, no social grants in the future” (le Cordeur 2016).

Safcei and Earthlife SA in 2016 took the Department of Energy (DoE) to court to get the department to confirm it signed a secret nuclear deal with Russia – if true, the deal would be cancelled for lack of public, parliamentary and democratic institutions’ participation. The DoE and Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear company have both denied the allegation. Government failed to respond to the allegations by the court stipulated deadline.

Civil society organisations have for years called for accountability in South Africa’s multibillion rands arms procurement deal concluded in 1999, and which was officially known as the Strategic Defence Package or the Strategic Defence Acquisition, which involved the purchase of US$4.8bn weaponry from US and European arms manufacturers. Following civil society pressure, government has instituted a number of public inquiries, each criticised by civil society organisations as ineffective.

The latest inquiry, led by Judge Willie Seriti, concluded after four years of inquiries that there was no corruption in the deal (Department of Justice and Constitutional Development 2016). Civil society organisations had during the life of the commission called for it to be disbanded, and for a more transparent, independent and credible process instead. However, this was rejected by government.

Civil society organisations, Corruption Watch and the Right2Know Campaign in 2016 launched a court bid to have the findings of the Arms Procurement Commission, which investigation possible wrongdoing in South Africa’s multibillion arms procurement programme, reviewed, on the basis that it did not fulfil its mandate. Civil organisations charge that piles of evidence collected by the now disbanded Scorpions, the former directorate of priority crimes, were not examined by the commission, crucial evidence was withheld and critical witnesses side-lined.

If the Corruption Watch and R2K bid to secure an order to set aside the findings of the Seriti Commission are successful, it will set an important precedent whereby future commissions of inquiry with questionable conduct will have tougher scrutiny.

Civil society organisations have kept social justice on the policy agenda

Civil society organisations have kept social justice on the public agenda. Over the years, civil society organisations have called for a Basic Income Grant (BIG). Many vulnerable citizens fall outside South Africa’s current social security system, which focuses on pensioners, former war veterans, the disabled and children. Furthermore, the Unemployment Insurance Fund and the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA) provide protection only to a restricted number of recipients.

The BIG campaign called for a universal, across-the-board, income grant without a means test (BIG Coalition 2002). The Basic Income Coalition ranged from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), to the Black Sash and the South African Council of Churches (SACC). The official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA) also supports the call for a basic income grant. Although government has never implemented the proposal, the campaign played an instrumental role in government expanding social grant recipients.

Civil society organisations have also for years, under the umbrella of the People’s Budget Coalition, campaigned for national Budgets which are focused on social justice, is pro-poor and participatory. The People’s Budget Coalition includes trade unions, churches, and NGOs, including the South African Coalition of Churches, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC). Again, although the key proposals of the People’s Budget Coalition had not been adopted by the ANC government, the coalition did ensure that National Budgets, are more widely scrutinised, ordinary citizens are educated on it, and compelled government to include aspects of pro-poor proposals in the Budget.

South Africa’s trade unions have ensured through public campaigns, the adoption, and entrenchment of basic employee rights, including the right to strike, and minimum safety and working conditions for those in formal employment. The trade union movement played an instrumental role in securing the adoption of a minimum wage – even if the agreed minimum wage of R20 an hour is low.

Civil society organisations have fought to hold corporates accountable

Civil society organisations have increasingly stepped in to hold corporates accountable for current and past wrongs, fight corruption and pressure government to hold corporates accountable.  In 2012, US car giant General Motors (GM) agreed to pay a symbolic sum of US$1.5m as compensation to victims of apartheid. The Khulumani Support Group in 2002 launched a US class action lawsuit against more than 20 US firms, including Ford, Daimler, German defence group Rheinmetall and computer firm IBM, which it accused of aiding the human rights abuses by the apartheid government.

The Legal Resources Centre and other civil society organisations in 2012, launched class actions against 32 gold mining companies for former and current employees, for contracting silicosis and occupational tuberculosis between 1965 to date. Six companies, African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American, AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony and Sibanye Stillwater, it’s expected to conclude a draft settlement estimated at R5bn in 2018, which could benefit over 100 000 former mineworkers.

The High Court in May 2016, endorsed the class action. The R5bn was provisionally set aside by the companies, which if ratified by the High Court, would be paid into a trust, which would operate up to 15 years. Such an envisaged trust would search for would-be beneficiaries.

Local civil society organisations have also been holding mining companies to account for failure to implement promises to build low-cost housing, boost local economic development and rehabilitate the environment in return for lucrative mining licences. For example, in 2016, civil society organisations, faith-based organisations and community organisations launched a series of protests against the company’s lack of implementation of its promised building of low-cost housing, local economic development and environmental rehabilitation.

Civil society organisations, including the Economic Justice Network, Action Aid and the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa, in 2009 launched an Alternative Mining Indaba, to annually focus on how to make mining companies more accountable. More recently some South African business umbrella organisations have also gotten involved to support citizens and civil groups fighting corruption. Last year, Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), the umbrella body for CEO’s of large corporates has suspended the membership state-owned companies, Eskom and Transnet, for alleged in connection with “extensive allegations of corrupt behaviour over a long period”.

Civil society organisations, such as Right2Know have demanded mobile networks such as MTN, Cell C, Telkom and Vodacom to reduce sky-high data and cellphone call rates. The costs of South African internet data compared to other countries, whether industrial or developing, including almost African ones, are excessively expensive. South African spent on average close to 25% of their wages on internet usage.

The International Telecommunication Union’s prescribed an average of 5%. Following civil society mobilisation against the high cost of data, Parliament instituted public hearings into the high costs of mobile data, calling telecommunications companies to make representations to the Assembly and cut the cost of data (Kubayi 2016; Serumula 2016).

Civil society organisations have educated citizens about their democratic rights

Civil society organisations have also publicly educated citizens about their rights – in a country with a large illiteracy where unscrupulous political, business, traditional and religious leaders have exploited the lack of knowledge of the poor to enrich themselves.

South African civil society organisations have for many years educated ordinary rural-dwellers about the controversial Traditional Courts Bill first introduced in parliament in 2008, and which undermines gender equality, deprives women and rural citizens of their constitutional rights, and makes traditional leaders more equal than ordinary citizens.

Civil society organisations under the Alliance for Rural Democracy, included the Rural People’s Movement, Sonke Gender Justice and the Treatment Action Campaign.  Civil society organisations embarked on awareness campaigns in the rural areas explaining to vast numbers of illiterate rural dwellers on how the bill will decimate their basic constitutional rights.

Civil society groups such as the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) had spending decades have pioneered for example patient-treatment education, whereby activists taught ordinary citizens not only their right to healthcare but also how to use complex medicine.


In spite of declining funding, South African civil society has largely stepped up to the challenge to defend the constitution, democracy and its institutions. Civil society organisations have fought public and private corruption. They have helped protect vulnerable South African citizens from government abuse – by fighting on behalf of ordinary citizens. They have strengthened the capacity of the state by often providing alternative public services where the state fails.

In many instances, they have made alternative information available, where governments and leaders have either hidden or obscured the true facts and fought to scrap apartheid-era laws, which deny democratic rights to citizens. They have supported democratic institutions, when these were being marginalised, corrupted and manipulated for selfish ends by some ANC leaders.

In a society where large numbers of citizens are illiterate and where politicians use the ignorance of citizens to enrich themselves, cover up their corruption, or blame colonialism and apartheid for their own current failures, many civil society organisations have educated citizens about their rights. They have also held corporates accountable for abusing citizens, destroying the environment and for corruption. Without active civil society organisations, the rollback of democratic rights in the past few years, the decline in the public service delivery and rising corruption would have been ultimately worse.

Selected Bibliography

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