How popular protests influence public discourse and public accountability: revisiting the theory of public spheres in South Africa

SOURCE: Politeia
PUBLICATION YEAR: 2013
TITLE AUTHOR(S): F.G.Netswera, K.G.Phago
KEYWORDS: CIVIL SOCIETY, DEMOCRACY, POST APARTHEID SOUTH AFRICA, PROTEST, PUBLIC ATTITUDE
DEPARTMENT: Democracy, Governance and Service Delivery (DGSD)
Print: HSRC Library: shelf number 9944

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Abstract

This article analyses some major sociopolitical trajectories in South African society since the advent of democracy, in the light of the sociopolitical theory of 'the public sphere', which was well articulated by the German sociologist, J??rgen Habermas. The article premises that the sphere of public authority, voted into power every five years, adopts goals in pursuance of the 'public good', by assuming the enhancement of civil society, as well as fair, effective and accountable public service. However, public authority is likely to stray from this public mandate. Once in a while the public sphere, social movements and uncoordinated mobs continue to challenge and protest against major 'unilateral decisions', arrived at in the sphere of public authority. This article provides examples of the effectiveness of the 'power and decision challenge', brought about by contestations between two spheres, namely the public sphere and sphere of public authority. It concludes that the public sphere serves to provide coordinated and uncoordinated checks, aimed at the preservation of the public good.