This article examines the widespread notion that post-apartheid democracy can be deepened and civil society strengthened by NGO activities in the sphere of public debate and participation. I focus on a number of interrelated processes which I argue may compromise NGOs' ability to expand the public sphere: first, donors' overwhelming focus on NGOs as the sole representative of civil society may contribute to a homogenous and institutionalised public sphere; second, the tendency for NGOs to be drawn into partnerships with government bodies and corporate sponsors casts doubt on their ability to open up spaces for critical public debate. By directing attention to popular movements as potentially offering a site for the production of critique, NGOs' relationships to such movements are examined. It is argued that attention must be paid to the processes of NGO-isation and reformism by which NGOs themselves come to define what civil society should be and may consequently contain counterpublic spheres.
- civil society
- South Africa
- social movement
Mueller-Hirth, N. (2009). South African NGOs and the public sphere: between popular movements and partnerships for development. Social Dynamics, 35(2), 423-435. https://doi.org/10.1080/02533950903076568