Transformative dynamics of South African civil society
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This policy brief explores the transformative context of civil society in South Africa to facilitate debate and consultation between the state and civil society in advancing a common agenda of social justice. Drawing on a literature review, key expert interviews and Varieties of Democracy data, this policy brief presents key findings on the transformative dynamics of state and civil society in a South African context. Specifically, the policy brief engages critical themes of state and civil society relations, the political context of South African civil society, gender dynamics and transformation within civil society, and the challenges and opportunities of transformation within South African civil society. Key findings show that firstly, although South Africa's civil society political context is relatively open in relation to free speech, there are serious concerns that the state is becoming more arbitrary in the interaction with civil society. This is driven by an increasingly non-responsive and unaccountable state, which, in turn, shapes a more confrontational relationship with civil society at certain levels of society. Secondly, gender representativity and gender inclusiveness remain a challenge within civil society, most notably
concerning marginalised gender identities such as the LGBTQI community. Thirdly, there is a lack of consistency in how different levels of government interact with civil society, thus highlighting a need for a model of good practice built on democratic principles to facilitate a collaborative state/civil society relationship. Fourthly, there are vast sectoral differences within civil society, which in turn, also determines the nature of interaction with the government as well as what issues government prioritises. This has had a negative impact on deliberative and participatory democracy in South Africa. There is a need for consistency in how government, regardless of the level of CSO and type of issue, engages with civil society.