Assessing the Quality of Democracy in South Africa
Chapter Five. Pillar Three: Civil Society and Popular Participation
227 Chapter Five Pillar Three: Civil Society and Popular Participation “… the effectiveness of democracy depends on an informed and alert civil society, complemented by an informed and alert citizenry”. (Schlemmer, 2008) 5.1. Introduction As noted in Chapter 2, an attentive and active citizen body or civil society is critical to deepening democracy in that it acts as a key agent of representation in society offering a way for diverse interests to be heard and widening access to and political participation in political institutions and processes.1 Friedman (2010b: 117) contends that the quality of democracy is, therefore, closely bound up with civil society’s prospects. The more citizens are able, through organisations that are independent of government, to voice their needs and beliefs to other citizens and public decision-makers, the more public decisions are likely to become a consequence of a process in which the various voices of the people compete for influence and the outcome reflects the voice of the majority that flows from that contest. Therefore, one of the key tests of the health of a democracy is the depth of civil society, that is, the extent to which participation in organisations that seek to influence government decisions filter down to all citizens (Friedman, 2010b: 119). It is possible to identify three basic categories of civil society functions.2 The first category of functions comprises those that limit the state for example, by: exerting pressure upon the state; challenging the state’s misuse of authority; monitoring civil liberties and the rule of...
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