Is a New Worldwide Web Possible? an Explorative Comparison of the Use of ICTs by Two South African Social Movements

By Wasserman, Herman | African Studies Review, April 2007 | Go to article overview
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Is a New Worldwide Web Possible? an Explorative Comparison of the Use of ICTs by Two South African Social Movements

Wasserman, Herman, African Studies Review


In this article the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), especially new media technologies such as e-mail and the Internet, by postapartheid South African social movements is explored. Following a discussion of the use of these technologies by activist groupings in international contexts, a typology suggested by Rheingold (2003) is used as a framework for comparing two South African social movements: the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the Anti-Privatization Forum (APF).


During the first ten years of democracy in South Africa, a range of new social movements has emerged in response to what is seen by these movements as the failure of the democratic state in key areas of social delivery such as basic services and health care.1 These movements-including the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (SECC), the Landless People's Movement (LPM), the Anti-Privatization Forum (APF), the National Land Committee (NLC), the Anti-Eviction Campaign (AEC), and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC)-display differences in their ideological underpinnings, organizational structure, and approaches. Nevertheless, Greenstein (2003:14) suggests that the development of these movements out of community struggles over issues such as housing, land, service provision, health, and education rights indicates that forms of representation and delegation that might be effective in contesting state power are seen as inadequate when basic needs at the grassroots level are at stake. Not all of these groups are in an equally adversarial relationship to the ANC government, although they have been criticized by the government in broad strokes as representing "ultra-left" factions or being "unpatriotic" or "anti-African" (Ballard 2005; Robins 2004; McKinley 2004; McKinley & Naidoo 2004b).2 While even the classification of these entities as social movements (and not, for instance, civil society organizations, NGOs, or grassroots activists) is contentious (Ballard 2005; Friedman & Mottiar 2004:24), this term, which has been used widely and has gained popular currency in media reports (e.g., Ballard 2005; Forrest 2003), is appropriate for reasons that will be discussed below.3 Perhaps Benjamin's (2004:78) broad definition of social movements as "groups of activists who have come together from a range of different communities and are involved in organizing and mobilizing for social justice" is the most helpful here.

Social movements traditionally have been defined as groups that mobilize outside of "policy elites" (Chadwick 2005). Even those groups that have ties to the ANC government or trade unions (Jacobs 2004:205) can be seen as social movements in the orthodox sense because they exert pressure on the government from outside of formal political processes and they advocate far-reaching structural changes to policy through mass mobilization. They also qualify as social movements according to standard definitions (such as that of Heywood 1997:266) insofar as they share an opposition to the adoption of neoliberal policies by the postapartheid government. Since they are aimed at bettering the quality of life of the poor in general and are not only lobbying for their members' interests, they can be seen as social movements rather than as civil society organizations (Heywood 1997:8). They furthermore cannot be classified as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), for reasons beyond the fact that some of their members also belong to the ANC. Although, like NGOs, they champion certain causes (McGowan & Nel 2002:353), and some of them (such as die Treatment Action Campaign) have the support of NGOs, they are overtiy political, activist organizations. Instead of fulfilling certain functions of the state, as NGOs often do (McGowan & Nel 2002:353), they aim to fundamentally change government policy.

It must be borne in mind, however, as Chadwick (2005) points out, that the Internet has blurred the lines between different forms of political organization and political mobilization, so that even "established parties and interest groups are increasingly borrowing and adapting repertoires of mobilization previously considered to be typical of new social movements.

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Is a New Worldwide Web Possible? an Explorative Comparison of the Use of ICTs by Two South African Social Movements


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