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  • Civil society, the state and the ruling party
  • Buntu Siwisa (bio)

The two articles, by Nina (1992) and by Seekings (1997), chronicled and appraised the journey of civil society and its relations with the post-apartheid South African state and the ruling party. These relations have been complementary, rivalry-ridden, belligerent, and confused – all within a space of two decades. Within this space and time, civil society has travelled from the position of organs of resistance, quasi-local government, to voluntary associations (Steinberg 2000). These relations are constantly changing, and these changes are further propelled by the fluidity of the shifts in the political landscape.

The articles met at two convex points of debates or enquiries. Nina seeks to identify and measure the autonomy of civil society in post-apartheid South Africa’s political landscape. Seekings examines the dynamics of relations between civil society and the state in the same arena.

Nina provides a theoretical canvas wherein these relations have played themselves out, thus contextualising them. He starts out by tracing the origins of civil society vis-à-vis the political society or the state, from the Hegelian and Gramscian perspectives, via the Marxist viewpoint, as it were. The Hegelian view maintains that the individual empowers ‘…the state with sovereign powers in order to provide him / her sufficient security to co-exist with other individuals in the civil society (Nina 1992: 62). In other words, civil society is a transitional phase, ‘… a step in human development towards some superior stage’, which is the state. Therefore, the state as a completely distinct force peters out with this transitional phase ‘…in which the individuals’ needs would require an external body to guide and protect them’. All in all, here Nina argues that civil society is not separate from the state, particularly in the case of South Africa. For Hegel, the transition from civil society to the state is the collective decision of rational individuals who have come together under a ‘common universality’. [End Page 169]

According to Marx, the determining of the development of civil society is ‘the consolidation of the bourgeois state’ (Nina 1992: 63). Individuals have divided responsibilities: as citizens of the state, and as individuals interacting in civil society controlled by capitalist relations of production. For Gramsci, the state is a dual entity ‘… in which the rule of the bourgeoisie would be exercised either via coercion (by the political society) or by consent (in the civil society)’ (Nina 1992:64). Weber had on this point maintained that the state ‘organizes domination’ over civil society, and further extends patronage to it (Weber 1998: 82). Therefore, for Marx and Gramsci, the state itself is two-fold, comprised of civil society and political society. And this division is amenable to the needs of the process of capital accumulation. Civil society is, therefore, not autonomous from the state, particularly in the post-apartheid South African setting. In sum, the state emanates from civil society, and civil society is part of the state.1

Seekings traced the fortunes of the South African National Civics Organisation (SANCO) from its launch in 1992 to the late 1990s.2 From this, a clear picture depicting SANCO’s gradual loss of autonomy, ideological and organisational confusion, and its partial infusion into the state and the ruling party, is drawn. He identified four factors that led to SANCO’s and other civic movements’ decline. The first one is that the changed institutional environment, ushered in by the advent of the installation of the democratic dispensation in the early to mid-1990s, caught SANCO and other civic movements unprepared. The representative roles that SANCO and other civic movements had carved for themselves were rolled back to the ANC and its elected councilors. Mamdani (1998) and Amin (1993) explained this marginalisation through the phenomenon of ‘received pluralism’ within the political environment of the dominance of the nationalist discourse in post-colonial Africa and Asia. As the nationalist discourse came to dominate, it was accepted that African social and civic movements should naturally espouse the nationalist discourse under the liberating and unifying party.

The second factor is the changing patterns of popular discontent, as the diversification of interests in the previously disadvantaged communities...


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pp. 169-172
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