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Civil society and poverty reduction in South Africa

A research conducted for the Fondation Maison des Science de L'Homme, Paris, France

Ndangwa Noyoo

SARPN acknowledges Ndangwa Noyoo as the source and author of this research paper.
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South Africa emerged twelve years ago, from a long history of racial discrimination that was translated, over decades, into the manner in which blacks were denied access to basic human needs, and also how they could not participate in the economic, and political processes of their own country. For generations, African communities remained on the margins of society and were only perceived as sources of cheap labour for the apartheid economy. South Africa has a specific history which is entwined with the current poverty situation in the country. Indeed, this history is informed by an ideology of inequality and differences between the races. This "reality" of racial exclusion was crafted via policies and legislation that in turn informed perspectives on poverty among the different races and classes in South Africa (Magasela, 2005). In 1994, South Africa became a free democracy and was for the first time led by an African government. Thus, the humongous task of addressing and redressing apartheid's legacy of poverty and inequality began. This effort would take on a combined approach from both the new government and civil society formations. Therefore, civil society's role in poverty reduction in a post-apartheid South Africa was initially defined from its close association with the new government that was genuinely searching for solutions to the dilemma of poverty. However, civil society was to encounter certain challenges as it took on the responsibility of uplifting communities out of poverty in a democratic order. At this juncture, some segments of civil society seem to have reached a cul-de-sac in their poverty reduction campaigns, due to a number of variables. To this effect, the present research study was undertaken in order to shed more light on the roles of civil society in poverty reduction. It was envisaged that an exercise of this nature could begin to proffer future policy options for the sector, and also aid in bolstering its roles and responsibilities in the fight against poverty in post-apartheid South Africa.

  1. Rationale and objective of the study

    The rationale of the research was based on the need to find out how civil society formations were engaged in poverty reduction endeavours in South Africa. The study also tried to establish clarity as to where civil society organisations could be located in the fight against poverty post-1994. This position was influenced by the assumption that a good number of interventions, propelled by these organisations seemed not to be attaining their intended impacts. The main objective of the study was to investigate the role of civil society in poverty reduction in South Africa.

  2. Methodology

    Mainly, in-depth interviews served as tools for gathering data. Also, an extensive literature review was undertaken to augment the study: secondary and primary sources of data were analysed, which included research reports, existing data bases, policy documents, legislation, and reports of organisations, annual reports of Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs), and internet searches. The research was qualitative and purposive in approach, and the analysis of data was manual.

  3. Limitations

    The main limitation of the research was the non-response exhibited by certain organisations as well as individuals that were purposively sampled. However, this deficit was compensated with in-depth interviews of key persons with profound knowledge of the sphere under investigation and also the context - South Africa. One can only speculate as to why these persons were reluctant to participate in the research study. Even though anonymity was guaranteed (to those that were uncomfortable with the prospect of their names appearing in a research report), it became clear after several follow-ups through e-mails and telephone calls that certain individuals were not willing to commit themselves or their organisations to this research inquiry. However, the distance between the researcher and the context could also have played a role in this situation. Nevertheless, the study was strengthened by the investigator's thorough knowledge of the subject and local environment, after having researched, taught and published in South Africa on various social development issues - of which civil society is part - for a period of eight years.

  4. Analytical framework

    A theoretical framework for a study of this nature was of critical importance, because it served as a fulcrum for the gathering and analysing of data. Therefore a policy position - specifically social policy - was adopted as the analytical framework for the research. It was recognised in this examination that such a perspective envisions social analysis as ultimately concerned with people's well-being and the main objective of planned development. In this way, social policy becomes a multi-institutional endeavour, whether pursued by the state, through civil society or international organisations. Therefore, in regard to poverty reduction, actions may take the form of one or a combination of either social welfare interventions and/or broader social and economic interventions designed to promote livelihoods strengthening (Hall and Midgley, 2004:100).

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