Given the appalling public service delivery failures, ballooning corruption and policy incoherence, South Africa’s civil society will have to play a bigger role in partnering with government to improve public sector capacity, accountability and providing new ideas.
South Africa needs a new civil society government model where civil society co-governs with government at national, provincial and local level.
At the moment, civil society is seen by many ANC and government leaders as the “enemy”, often being accused of being alleged “fronts” for foreign governments supposedly set on “regime change” and of playing an “opposition” role.
ANC General Secretary Gwede Mantashe, following a meeting of the ANC’s national working committee in July this year, claimed South African civil society groups were being used by foreign “elements seeking to affect regime change”. Before that, also this year, State Security Minister David Mahlobo claimed that domestic and foreign “state and non-state” actors were using local civil society groups to “influence” the country’s politics.
Partnership between civil society and the state is vital for democracy, development and economic growth
The co-ordination and co-operation between the state and civil society is vital to boost government capacity, especially when there is a scarcity of public resources, combined with great development needs.
In fact, the ‘reciprocity’ (Weiss 1998) of engagement between the state and civil society is crucial for democracy, growth and development. This reciprocal co-operation between the state and civil society – business, organised labour, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), community organisations and communities – enhances the capacity of the state to deliver.
Synergy between the state, civil society and communities has been at the heart of successful transformative projects, not only in East Asian developmental states, but also in their post-Second World War Western European counterparts.
Civil society could try to co-govern with current governing parties and leaders, through democratic social pacts between civil society, government, business and communities. This can take place at national or local level or in specific sectors of the economy or at factory or mine level or organisational level.
The elements of state-civil society co-governance
What would co-governance between the state and civil society mean in practical terms? Representatives from civil society organisations, based on their specific expertise, could be appointed to all government commissions, task teams and tribunals. This will give civil society a direct voice in government decision-making and policy formulation – and boost civil society participation, oversight and influence on policy-making.
Civil society representatives could also be mandatory for all government panels interviewing for executives and board members of all key constitutional oversight offices, democratic institutions, agencies and state-owned entities (SOEs).
It appears that government and parliamentary panels often do not shortlist candidates that are competent, but independent for nominations to head constitutional offices, democratic institutions and SOEs. Civil society groups should be involved in nominating candidates to head official institutions.
Furthermore, civil society groups must always compare candidates who have been shortlisted by government interview panels for public jobs, against those who applied, but were not shortlisted, to gauge whether competent, but independent-minded candidates, are deliberately being sidelined, before the shortlisting process – which is often the case.
Every government department could set up panels where civil society groups operating in their sectors could take part – to provide alternative ideas, oversight and accountability to government decisions and policies.
Similarly, civil society representatives could be part of government trade negotiations with other countries based on their expertise. Civil society representatives could also be appointed to all boards of state-owned enterprises. But civil society should also become a part of the stakeholder forums of all government entities, to be consulted on policies, decisions and for ideas.
Civil society should also play a bigger role in national parliament. Sector specific civil society organisations should at all times be part of parliamentary committee policy deliberations. Sector specific civil society groups should also be accommodated on all parliamentary committees as advisors.
Similarly, civil society should partner with government to deliver services at local government levels. Civil society representatives could, for example, be part of expert panels to oversee the appointment of key staff.
Civil society and community groups could also play a key role both in the formulation of the national, provincial and municipal budgets, and also on deciding on priorities.
Porto Alegre, the capital city of the Rio Grande do Sul state in Brazil, has pioneered civil society participation in budgeting at the city level for example. The city introduced “participatory budgeting” in 1990, a year after the Workers’ Party (PT) came to power. The city administration, in partnership with community groups, neighbourhood movements and trade unions, has through participatory decision-making dramatically improved public service delivery.
Civil society should play a stronger democratic oversight role
Civil society organisations, such as the Treatment Action Campaign played crucial roles in forcing the government to roll out HIV/Aids drugs. They have also on behalf of poor communities taken government to court over poor public service delivery. Such roles must continue.
Civil society must provide democratic oversight, supporting democrats and democratic institutions in and outside government and democratic institutions, push for democratic change, and isolate corrupt public representatives, better, smarter and more imaginatively. Civil society should ideally continue to support democratic institutions and exemplary public officials who are under attack from self-serving political and government officials
Civil society should continue to bring to light undemocratic actions by leaders and government, in a similar way it kept the Nkandla scandal, where President Jacob Zuma used public money to make renovations to his private residence, in the public spotlight, following intense executive, parliamentary and government pressure not to do so. Civil society organisations must name and shame corrupt, unaccountable and dishonest leaders, and motivate communities to shun such people.
South African civil society groups must begin to set the public debate and agenda on what the nature of inclusive democracy, development and culture should be, which will genuinely bring dignity, development and peace to the masses.
Compromised leaders, whether political, traditional leaders or heads of other sectors of society, continues to set the public agenda on the nature of democracy, development and culture in South Africa. Not surprisingly, in most cases it is of the most patriarchal, narrow and self-serving kind.
Civil society must provide new ideas to reboot sustainable democracy, development and aspects of culture that undermine individual dignity, rights, gender and social equality.
It will have to partner with ordinary citizens and communities at the grassroots level so they can assert their democratic rights, hold governments and business accountable and to build sustainable livelihoods.
Given rising public protests, civil society will have to play a stronger oversight role over security, police and intelligence institutions. It should be involved in the monitoring of public transactions and projects. Civil society should also be involved in regular and public government audits of projects, tenders and appointments.
A stronger and more participatory role must be played by South African civil society organisations in all levels of government with regards to the monitoring and evaluating the implementation and quality of promised government programmes, rather than the current way in which experts “monitor” and “evaluate” such programmes.
Currently, the politics whether practiced by leaders of the ANC, the opposition or by ordinary citizens are often conducted in very ill-tempered ways. Civil society leaders could help encourage the fostering of a political environment where politics are conducted with greater maturity, dignity and mindfulness of others, and where political actors use less destructive ways to get their views across.
Civil society could also encourage constructive coalition building in all sectors of South African society, whether in the workplace to maintain industrial peace, by fostering social pacts between business, labour and government to create jobs, boost development and growth, or by bringing opposing parties together to find long-term solutions in the raging current crisis in higher education.
Finding new models of funding for civil society
Following the 2007/2008 global and Eurozone financial crises many traditional foreign donors have reduced or cut their funding.
Others have refocused their reduced funding to new causes, which are “trendy” in their home countries. There has also been a general backlash in Western countries against foreign aid to African and developing countries in general, with the argument being made that such funding should be spent at home, and get abused by African and developing country governing elites, rather than going to the poor.
There is some urgency to secure new ways of funding for civil society. In the post-apartheid era, government set up the National Development Agency (NDA) to channel foreign funding to civil society groups. Later it distributed a portion of the lottery income to charities. Civil society groups perceived to be critical of government regularly complained that they were sidelined from NDA funding.
A report by the Funding Practice Alliance found the NDA “failing” in its mandate of distributing funds to deserving civil society groups. It found that the funding from the lottery has not been effectively distributed to charities either, often going to government agencies, well-connected ‘civil society’ organisations, and sport bodies which could generate their own money in many cases.
In the case of both the NDA, civil society groups perceived to be critical of government complained they were bypassed when applying for funding. Political leaders are increasingly establishing “charities”, which often really is more about securing public money for patronage purposes, and to buy political support of communities, rather than actual “charity”, community upliftment or development. This diverts scarce money away from deserving genuine charities.
Civil society groups must collectively agitate to ensure that NDA and lottery funds are distributed accountably, fairly and equitably, to deserving civil society groups and communities. Similarly government agencies will have to make funding more effectively available to civil society groups, not based on political allegiance.
Corporate South Africa has not funded civil society. They have mostly focused on black economic empowerment (BEE). Most of the BEE since 1996 has been focusing on empowering a small group of politically connected individuals linked the top leadership of the ANC.
There has to be a pre-requisite to have civil society and community groups as part of all private sector black economic empowerment (BEE) deals, rather than the current policy whereby individual politically connected figures are usually the BEE partners of established companies.
Furthermore, to further capacitate civil society itself, a fund should be established, run by civil society representatives, which could fund civil society. As a component of BEE, local private companies could channel funds to such a fund. Such a civil society fund should not be managed by government.
It is simply unacceptable that most of South Africa’s civil society groups are funded from foreign taxpayers’ money, while local corporates refuse to support civil society, or continue with ridiculously ineffective ‘social responsibility’ programmes. It is a further irony that some ANC and government leaders alleged that the NGOs because of foreign funding they receive it is part of “regime change”, yet, the government is not making South African taxpayers money fairly available to local civil society.
Professionals of all colours must also get more involved in donating to civil society and volunteering their skills for civil society organisations. An investment in civil society is the best investment in securing a sustainable future South Africa.
Civil society organisations will have to reinvent themselves
Following the advent of democracy, South African society has changed dramatically. Community priority issues have changed – however many civil society groups continue to operate as if it was still during the apartheid era. Some civil society groups have been unable to reinvent themselves following the changes in society.
Civil society groups must remain relevant by promoting holistic solutions to complex problems facing communities, rather than focus on donor-driven short-term ‘Band-Aid’ ones.
Some civil groups have been overtly ideologically in their approach, not pragmatic enough, and opposing the government for the sake of opposing it. Others have simply been poorly managed. Some civil society groups have failed to come up with new more appropriate operational models to reduce costs, given the decrease in donor funding. In many cases boards were stocked with friends or activists without special financial, legal or fundraising skills.
Civil society will have to form better coalitions with each other; and with communities around key issues. Civil society organisations must pool resources, integrate their programmes and collaborate more creatively. Civil society organisations need fresh leadership blood, ideas and new approaches.
William Gumede (2009) Delivering the Democratic Development State in South Africa. In, Anne McLennan and Barry Munslow (eds) The Politics of Service Delivery. Johannesburg: Wits University Press, pp. 43-103
David Mahlobo (2016) Comments expressed in an interview by Radio 702 host Xolani Gwala. April 29, Johannesburg
Gwede Mantashe (2016) Media address following the ANC National Working Committee meeting. Luthuli House, Johannesburg, July 12
Linda Weiss (1998) The Myth of the Powerless State. London: Polity