Governance from Below: rights, global citizens and local spaces of participation.


This paper focuses on new communities and conceptions of citizenship and civic action promoted by two globally connected Cape Town-based NGOs and CBOs involved in struggles over access to land, housing and Aids treatment. The organisations discussed in the paper include the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), an Aids activist group, and the South African Homeless People's Federation (SAHPF), a low-income housing association connected to networks of Slum Dwellers International (SDI), a globally connected organisation based in 14 countries. Like the TAC, the SAHPF is a mostly women's organisation that is involved in a wide range of activities including savings clubs, income generation projects, community policing, Aids intervention and so on. The Mumbai-based women's savings collectives and the SAHPF are part of SDI's global network of homeless people's organisations that is connected through Federation members visiting each other's cities. This form of 'horizontal exchange' assists poor people exchange ideas through direct learning about savings schemes, housing, income generation projects and so on. This phenomenon, increasingly described as 'grassroots globalisation' or 'globalisation from below', is recognised as playing a crucial role in the creation of an international civil society representing the needs of the poorer 80% of the population of the world.

This paper attempts to understand the politics of participation underlying new organisational forms of the poor in post-apartheid South Africa. In particular, the paper is interested in examining the following question: under what conditions does participation contribute towards the development of a democratic politics? The paper deals with the vicissitudes of democracy and participation in post-apartheid South Africa, a setting in which civic institutions and civil society organisations exist alongside strong social and economic inequalities, where the state has changed its structure and redefined its functions and where fragmentation and social division remain key obstacles for effective citizenship. The paper aims to show how participatory practices are embedded in a series of ambiguous assumptions about 'entitlement' and 'rights'.


UWC Working Paper, Citizenship, Participation, and Accountability Series No. 4, Cape Town, South Africa; UWC, 60 pp.

Governance from Below: rights, global citizens and local spaces of participation.

Published 1 January 2003