oa African Yearbook of Rhetoric - Toward a porous membrane : civil society and the state of South Africa

Volume 2, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 2220-2188
  • E-ISSN: 2305-7785



Civil society is an all-embracing term for organisations and activities outside of the state or government spheres. During the apartheid years some of the most important internal initiatives in opposing apartheid and defending the institutions, people, and ideas opposing apartheid came from organisations, institutions and individuals firmly located within civil society. The apartheid government had little hesitation in launching sometimes crippling attacks on many opposing it. Many non-profit organisations (trade unions, churches, civic organisations, legal defence bodies and universities among them) suffered from state incursions in attempts to control core aspects of their activities. An ironic but positive consequence of these attacks was that they often helped to strengthen civil society by making those attacked more focused, more resourceful, and more determined in their opposition to apartheid. It forms a central antithesis of the apartheid regime that it helped throw up bodies addressing inadequacies in apartheid education, health, legal, employment and social policies and by doing so strengthened oppositional politics and activities, thereby helping bring forward its own demise. Then in 1994 came the end of the apartheid state and the establishment of the democratic state, which was accompanied by the state entering into new relationships with what was by then a generally vibrant civil society. But the relationship soon produced a totally different set of tensions between state and civil society. It is this canvas of transition to democracy and the tension surrounding the messy relationship of the state to civil society after the 1994 election that forms the setting for this essay.

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