Popular mobilization, party dominance and participatory governance in South Africa


This chapter seeks to explore the character of popular mobilization in South Africa, mostly at the local level. This is done through exploring the interaction of two independent processes. The first concerns the relative empowerment of political parties and the disempowerment of civil society (especially social movements) by the democratization process in South Africa. The second concerns the introduction of new institutions of public participation in local governance. Hence, while the latter are portrayed as ‘invited spaces’ in which communities can engage the local state constructively, the poor design of these spaces, a lack of genuine will on the part of elites and the relative power of key social actors mean that, in practice, they are either meaningless processes or simply co-opted by political parties. Notably, civil society has tended either to disengage from the local state and focus on provincial and national levels, or to resort to forms of popular protest to be heard by local government – the non-governmental organization (NGO) sector usually favouring the first approach and social movements the second.

The chapter begins with theoretical literature on state–society relations, and the character of and relationship between ‘invented’ and ‘invited’ spaces. It then moves to the received views in the literature on popular mobilization in recent South African history, and the nature and purpose of new forms of ‘participatory governance’ at local government level. The relationship between these ‘invented’ and ‘invited’ spaces is then explored through case studies of two municipalities, with special focus on the consequences for popular mobilization. The chapter concludes by analysing the causes of demobilization that result from participatory governance, identifying the consequent tendency of civil society to ‘disengage’ from or become ‘enraged’ at local government, and pointing to the necessity of oppositional-movement revival to change state–society relations in a more democratic fashion.

Owing to copyright restrictions, only the first 3 pages are attached, together with a link to the book at Zed Books.


Piper, L.; Nadvi, L. Popular mobilization, party dominance and participatory governance in South Africa. In: Citizenship and Social Movements: Perspectives from the Global South.. Zed Books, London, UK (2010) ISBN 9781848133884

Published 1 January 2010