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Publication Details

Reference
Pieterse, Edgar  (2003) Rhythms, patterning and articulations of social formations of South Africa . Development update  Vol. 4, No. 3: 1-36.

Summary
Introduction
In the context of almost 40 per cent unemployment, extreme income inequalities
and high levels of tenure insecurity, the majority of South Africans lead precarious
and tough lives. Development theorists often assume, or rather expect, that these
people will recognise their collective interests and associate in various forms of
voluntary group, and exercise social citizenship to advance their social and economic
position. And those development theorists who hold a consensual view of political
practice 1 see the act of association as a crucial precondition for grounding
development initiatives in the aspirations and needs of intended beneficiaries.
Associations of the poor make it possible for the government to enlist the poor in
various initiatives aimed at ‘empowering’, ‘improving’, ‘uplifting’ and ‘developing’
their livelihood strategies. However, it is expected that such associational formations
broadly agree to the modernising agenda of the government, and that they will act
within the institutional and ideological framework of the government in order to
‘benefit’ from the plethora of development initiatives. These assumptions show
themselves across most South African government policies including the integrated
development planning system so central to municipal governance, the recent
Integrated Sustainable Rural Development Strategy, and various sectoral
participatory mechanisms such as water, health or school committees and the like.
On the left, commentators assume a rather different role for associational formations.
Broadly speaking, the expectation is that poor people will become ‘conscious’ of the
causal factors of their exploitation, and realise that by amalgamating their disparate
energies they can shift power relations and improve their collective situation. In this
view, since 1996 the primary causal factor of systemic poverty in South Africa is the
government’s neo-liberal macroeconomic policy – the de facto national development
strategy, according to the left – which itself is embedded in the neo-liberal globalisation
agenda of the West, and associational formations of the poor must become the bedrock
of militant social movements that will challenge the hegemony and technologies of
the government’s agenda.2 In South Africa, trade unions are often seen to be the
vanguard of these social movements, but ideally positioned closely to community-based
social movements mobilised around the vicious manifestations of neo-liberal
political expression, such as evictions and service cut-offs. The challenge, seen through
this conceptual lens, is to expose as many poor people as possible to an analysis of how
capitalist power reproduces itself through a neo-liberal government and globalised
economy, and then for them to take up their historical mission of relentlessly attacking
and dismantling the system in all its manifestations.



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