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Tenney, Rachel  (2004) “With All Out Differences We Work Together”: A Critical Case Study of Wentworth Civil Society. Macalester College : 1-56.

For the girl child forced from school for lack of school fees there is civil society. For the gogo who supports five grandchildren alone and finds her water cut there is civil society. For the woman dying at the hands of her husband, there is civil society. These women could be found in rural Ndumo or in heart of Durban without much stretching of the imagination.

But what is civil society? Is it this feel-good answer to all of South Africa’s problems or simply a poor answer to the failings of government to provide? Or is it much more complex? Civil Society in the New South Africa is an ever moving and growing sector. Since 1994 there have been many new community organizations springing up to speak for residents and some that speak for the benefit of those who started them. They expand to provide services that the government fails to and also to advocate for those services. But the world did not begin in 1994; history and how people remember and relive it plays a part in the civil society today.

This paper intends to try to understand South African civil society through the lens of Wentworth, a Coloured community created in Durban’s South Basin under the Group Areas Act, looking at both the history of the community as well as current conditions for answers to why so many organizations exist in such a small area. Just as nothing is white and black in Wentworth, so is the theoretical and analytical framework not absolute. There is a spectrum for each analysis, as the spectrum of colors exists in Wentworth. Between Antonio Gramsci’s understanding of civil society supporting the dominant hegemony of the State and civil society bent on the destruction of the State, there are those organizations that work subversively, but quietly and there are those that are critical of the State while taking from it.

South African civil society instead falls along the spectrum between these two definitions. Gramsci will be presented as the strongest theoretical framework, after sections about civil society in South Africa, on a global and national level are put forth, with qualifications made to apply it to the South African case. Case studies of organizations in Wentworth will be used to shed light on how civil society organizations communicate and work together. They can be placed along a spectrum based on what they do for the community, but as the tools for looking at civil society in Wentworth are not absolute, nor are the conclusions. There are many negative and detrimental aspects of the current relationships between organizations that come through, but there are also bright spots, among individual organizations and the people who lead them.

There are some clear areas where improvements need to be made to ensure continued good results for the community.

Finally conclusions about civil society in South Africa will be made, based on the case study analysis. South African civil society occupies a gray area between reinforcing inequalities by not striking at the heart of the problem and actively working to destroy the system. In reality civil society is less concerned with theoretical implications of the work being done and more about just doing the work that needs to be done.

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