The Role of NGOs in Strengthening the Foundations of South African Democracy

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This paper assesses the contribution of South African nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to the process of democratic consolidation. By drawing on a 1998 survey conducted among 270 NGOs, on several expert interviews, and on an analysis of the structures and programmes of the umbrella body of South African NGOs (Sangoco), the author presents a multi-faceted picture of the activities of the South African NGO sector. The focus is on the NGOs' role as (1) “schools of democracy,” (2) in bridging societal cleavages, and (3) in providing channels of interest representation for the most marginalized sections of the population. The paper concludes that the contribution of South African NGOs to the process of democratic consolidation is significant, but highly dependent on an enabling external environment.

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