HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies (Mar 2015)

The possible contribution of civil society in the moral edification of South African society: The example of the ‘United Democratic Front’ and the ‘Treatment Action Campaign’ (1983–2014)

  • Jakobus M. Vorster

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 71, no. 3
pp. e1 – e8


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In spite of much candid protest and overt criticism against the service delivery record and corruption of the South African government, the governing party, the African National Congress (ANC), once again secured a persuasive victory in the 2014 national elections. This situation begs the question whether the ballot box is really the only efficient instrument for disgruntled voters to influence government policy and behaviour. This article examines the possibilities that the mobilisation of civil society offers in this regard. The central theoretical argument is that civil society can be an important instrument through which the citizenry can exercise their critical function with regard to the government in an effort to address poor service delivery and corruption and to influence government policy. Christian organisations can play a crucial role in this process. Two examples of past efficient action by civil society serve to illustrate this argument. With the assistance of churches and Christian organisations,these organisations profoundly influenced government policy and are consequently presented as models for action today. The first example is the ‘United Democratic Front’ (UDF) that forced the pre-1994 South African apartheid government to a negotiated settlement despite the strict security laws that the state utilised to keep the UDF in check. The second example is the ‘Treatment Action Campaign’ (TAC) that forced the post-1994 Thabo Mbeki government to adopt a policy of free provision of antiretroviral drugs to HIV-positive patients. These two influential civil organisations offer models of how civil society can act as critical watchdog. In future, these models can be used to mobilise civil society, including churches and Christian organisations, to act correctively in defining and enacting government policy, despite the ANC’s strong position in government and the large majority that the governing party can secure at the voting polls.