Month: March 2014

The network society, power and the print media in post-apartheid South Africa

Although post-apartheid South Africa has witnessed constraints on press freedom by the ruling party, there is limited understanding of how media discourse is contested and constructed by diverse social actors. This article is interested in the extent to which various social actors in the Durban network society, such as civil society, corporations and the state, shape public information and perception in their own interests regarding environmental discourse. Empirical evidence presents viewpoints from key social actors and a local case study. The article compares the urban regional and case study analyses, and highlights the complex relationship between various social actors and the numerous avenues used to shape public information and perception. While corporations causing pollution mainly serve as barriers to civil society using the media effectively to highlight environmental injustices (e.g. through corporate media sponsorships, media intimidation), this is further complicated by limitations within civil society and media outlets to influence media discourse (e.g. limited financial/human resources, individualized leadership, media remuneration issues). Alongside these limitations, and the power of government and corporations, the influence of media discourse and perceptions regarding industrial risks are also dependent upon successful horizontal and vertical networking between civil society actors.

Leonard, L. (2014) The network society, power and the print media in post-apartheid South Africa: the case of media contestation in Durban for environmental justice, Media, Culture and Society, Volume 36(7), 966-981.

Characterising civil society and its challenges in post-apartheid South Africa

Since South Africa’s transition to democracy, civil society has been considered a critical component of new inclusive “democratic” societies, acting to ensure human rights for all. Government and donor agencies require the incorporation of this sector within project documents and programmes. However, is civil society merely a loosely defined term used to satisfy the requirements of project proposals and interests of the state, donors and big business, while not directly addressing the concerns of citizens subjected to macroeconomic risks (e.g. industrial pollution, unemployment and service delivery)? Since the transition, it is mainly established civil society organisations that have become well resourced and who have developed collaborative relationships with the state and industry, which has eroded their accountability to and support from the marginalised communities they claim to serve. Can such organisations then claim to be part of an “authentic” civil society striving for inclusive development? By reviewing contemporary and historical literature on civil society, and through empirical work, this paper argues that there has been a shift in the conception of civil society
since the transition, with established forms of support for the grassroots remaining doubtful. Civil society has not effectively engaged with the grassroots to project their concerns about macroeconomic risks, largely due to integration into government/donor institutions. Fragmentation within the grassroots arena has also limited coherent actions against dominant groups. Although civil society
can support the grassroots to address their concerns through formal activities, for example, by employing legal strategies, there is no guarantee of success. Connections between an “authentic” civil society and coherent grassroots actions engaging in a combination of strategies (formal and informal) will be required to achieve true democracy.

Keywords: civil society; political society; South Africa; NGOs; CBOs; grassroots; social movements

Leonard, L. (2014) Characterising civil society and its challenges in post-apartheid South Africa, Journal of Social Dynamics,

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Participatory democracy against industrial risks

Under Apartheid, marginalised groups had limited power to influence decisions contributing to environmental injustices. Democracy witnessed civil society as ‘inclusive’ to engage in formal decision-making. This paper examines the ability of the state and industry to effectively implement formal participatory decision-making spaces, including the ability of civil society to engage in these spaces. This paper presents viewpoints from stakeholders in Durban to examine engagement amongst civil society, the state and industry for participatory democracy. Investigations reveal that tokenistic participatory processes by provincial/local government and industry during development processes, government use of industrial consultants for decision-making, and fragmentation between some local community groups due to acquisition of industrial funding has not effectively included marginalised citizen’s into participatory processes to inform decisions. Despite a democratic transition, participatory democracy for environmental justice is limited. This paper suggests that government and industry need to engage proactively with civil society before decisions are made on development processes, rather than as an afterthought. It is also suggested that consultants used during development processes be chosen in consensus between civil society, industry and government. Community coherence against industrial risks will also be better achieved if industrial funding was administered through a community fund with an appropriate monitoring system of how funds are used.

Leonard, L. (2014) Participatory democracy against industrial risks: Environmental justice in Durban, South Africa, Politikon: South African Journal of Political Studies, DOI: 10.1080/02589346.2014.905263

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