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From Comrades to Citizens: The South African Civics Movement by Glenn Adler

By Glenn Adler

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Additional info for From Comrades to Citizens: The South African Civics Movement and the Transition to Democracy

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There is not space here to answer the question fully, but any attempt to do so would have to amplify the following factors. Firstly, there were direct and acute material pressures upon township residents. By the mid-1970s, `townships were facing a crisis of reproduction: overcrowding, inadequate urban services, rising unemployment . . and declining real wages as inflation rose' (Swilling, 1988a:3±4). Secondly, the crisis of accumulation which threatened capital was matched by a multifaceted political crisis that jolted the South African state.

An additional dividend was added with the World Bank's turn towards political conditionality in the late 1980s: autonomous political organizations would serve as a check on the state orÐas donor organizations plannedÐa substitute for the state as agents of development. 4 In recent years this effusive optimism among political scientists and aid agencies has given way to a more cynical assessment of civil society, and its place in political and economic liberalization. In this rethink, well-organized associations in civil societyÐsuch as trade unionsÐpresent `rigidities' impeding eÂlite efforts to liberalize their economies.

And so if civil society has a role to play in the immediate aftermath of the transition to democracy, it is to maintain its silence. The reward for this, etched out upon a distant horizon located somewhere in the future, are the economic conditions of democratic prosperity. Civil society must wait, as it were, for the (theoretically determined) moment that furnishes the economic conditions of its own existence. Whatever the normative value of these positions, each sketches an equally unlikely scenario.

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