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Heller, Patrick and Ntlokonkulu, Libhongo (2001) A Civic Movement, Or A Movement of Civics?: The South African National Civic Organisation
in the post-apartheid Period. Centre for Policy Studies: Johannesburg Research Report: No. 84: 1-68.

We have introduced these concepts because they provide a particularly useful analytical frame for the study of the South African National Civic Movement (SANCO). This is a peak organisation formed in 1992 to provide unitary representation for affiliated local civics. Evaluating the role of SANCO as a CSO is critical to any understanding of civil society in the post-apartheid period for a number of reasons.

Though many civics in South Africa are not affiliated to SANCO, SANCO is certainly the most important national organisation of its kind, claiming to represent over 4 000 local branches.10 Contrary to the widely held view that the civics movement is moribund, the key finding of our research is that while SANCO as a national organisation is indeed ineffective and virtually invisible,at the branch level civics continue to play an important role in community life. In the three provinces where we conducted research – Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape – most townships and informal settlements have active SANCO branches. The extent to which local civics continue to enjoy a high degree of legitimacy was most saliently revealed in four focus groups that we conducted with township and informal settlement residents. All four groups unambiguously identified ‘the civic’ as the ‘organisation that does the most for the community’.. In this respect, SANCO, for all its organisational weaknesses, remains the most important community-based organisation (CBO) in South Africa. Moreover, because the civics movement of the 1980s was in many respects the most prominent and high-profile community-based component of black civil society, SANCO’s fortunes provide important insights into the evolution of civil society in the post-apartheid period. Finally, to the extent that civics give voice to the poor and historically marginalised, they play a potentially critical role in deepening democracy. By the same token, moreover, if SANCO is little more than an instrument of the hegemonic aspirations of the African National Congress (ANC), or SANCO branches act as gatekeepers and monopolise control over developmental resources, SANCO might very well be undermining the vitality and autonomy of civil society. Either way, the study of SANCO promises to shed light on a critical component of civil society.

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