Powerful, United Civil Society Needed to Speak for the Poor and Marginalised

Article excerpt

BYLINE: Ebrahim Harvey

What does the political crisis in the ruling alliance and the growing social crisis in our country have to do with civil society? Everything.

But unfortunately civil society has been on the steady decline since the watershed 1994 democratic elections. During the anti-apartheid struggles, we had a vibrant and powerful civil society which made anything look possible to achieve.

Today, except for social movements, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and pockets of civic involvement, we have had a regrettable decline in civil society.

The problem is that the greater the social and political crisis, the more important and urgent it is to have an active and engaged civil society to address it.

The crisis we face has many facets, which includes the corruption that has been oozing out of the pores of our society over the past decade, particularly in the government and the public sector.

Behind this corruption lies the frenzied chase for power, status and, most importantly, money, whose combined corrosive power is pervasively evident in this country.

Today, the engine for the revival of civil society is social movements and trade unions, particularly Cosatu, but as long as the latter remains in its alliance with the ruling party its best efforts will be seriously hamstrung.

Cosatu would become the leading and most powerful component of civil society if it left an alliance that has compromised its interests and considerably weakened it.

Outside the alliance, Cosatu would be compelled to act more consistently against the policies of the ANC-led government, potentially rallying social movements in a broader effort at fundamental social transformation, and reversing policies which have had the effect of weakening and marginalising the whole of civil society steadily since 1994.

We only need to look at how the ANC actively compromised the independence of the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) to see how this was done in order to clear the way for the unimpeded implementation of neo-liberalism at municipal level.

Whereas in the 1980s, Sanco was at the forefront of the struggle against apartheid, after 1994 it became a passive adjunct of the ANC, and in some places was used by the ruling party to sell unpalatable social policies -- such as prepaid water meters - to poor black households who resisted their installation.

A further indication of how the ANC deliberately sidelined Sanco was that, whereas it was originally meant to be a component of the ANC alliance, it has for many years been without any presence or voice in it. …