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Dallimore, Anthea & Mgimeti, Mihloti (200) Democratic Banking in the New South Africa. CCS Grant Report : 1-199.

On the 27th of April 2002, democracy in South Africa celebrated its eighth birthday. Many who have witnessed the long struggle to freedom are interested in assessing the extent to which this change in political state has affected the non-political functioning of South African society, namely that of civil society. Whilst the current government has accepted responsibility in addressing social ills that face the country such as poverty and inequality, it has also called upon other spheres of society to assist them in their new struggles.

Civil society, as defined by Narayan1, refers to "those groups, networks, and relationships that are not organized or managed by the State. Civil society ... covers a wide range of formal and informal networks and organizations including Non Government Organizations (NGO), community based organizations and networks of neighbors and kin."

In many ways, South Africa has a very unique history and has experienced a transition from an authoritarian state that was fiercely separated according to race and class, to one based on a liberal constitution of freedom and equality for all of its citizens. The relative absence of a thriving civil society in South Africa may be partly explained by the political theorist Adam Przeworski who argued that authoritarian regimes detest independent organisations: "they either incorporate them under centralized control or repress them by force".

One of the many new challenges facing the country is how to establish, encourage and promote a thriving and diverse civil society.

Previously, civil society organisations were focused on overpowering a common enemy - apartheid. However, with the introduction of democracy they have had to redefine their roles. New roles adopted by civil society have included participating in the policy-making process, becoming partners in the role of service delivery, and becoming watch dogs and monitors of the new government and its performance (Ibid.)

These newly defined roles of both government and civil society and the success with which the two interact are of significant importance to the economic and social well-being of South Africa.

Much interest is now being shown towards how the relationship between government and civil society will play out in practice. This piece of research focuses on the role of micro-finance in poverty alleviation with specific reference to one organisation which is challenging conventional commercial banking practices with an alternative that truly aims to assist the poor and excluded.

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