Is civil society all things to all people?
How ‘civil society’ is understood is contested, with a range of definitions based on country context and conceptual paradigms. It has a long and vibrant history in South Africa, playing a key role in the apartheid years. It encompasses people participating in forums that affect their lives, and a range of organisations from trade unions, political associations, street committees, neighbourhood watches, to faith based organisations, stokvels, sports clubs and other social and recreational organisations.
There have been changes in the sector and its role in post-apartheid South Africa and expectations of what civil society can deliver have changed. While some residents participate in a number of forums for positive change and to improve their quality of life ‘uncivil society’ (for instance related to xenophobic violence, intolerance, prejudice, elitism and class bias) have come under greater scrutiny more recently.