Active Citizenship

In August 2012 Trevor Manuel, Minister in the Presidency for the National Planning Commission (NPC) speaking at Stellenbosch University said, 'We need active citizenship in South Africa. If you don’t care about democracy, why should the government care? All citizens should be engaged with society'.This is a new section on the Policy Action Network (PAN) portal and we are in the process of uploading documents which broadly address this subject area. If you would like to submit documents including case studies on active citizenship send them to [email protected].

Related publications

Policy brief which argues that development is not only a matter of technocratic solutions prescribed by international organizations. Increasing development effectiveness means including in the process of policy making the perspectives of those who are most in need of aid. Informed public debate helps identify problems, find feasible solutions, and build consensus around them. Economic prescriptions and political initiatives, such as poverty programs, may not have the desired effects because they do not take cultural circumstances into account. The poorest and most disadvantaged groups are most often excluded from dialogue about how to improve their lives. Instead, development and government technocrats prescribe solutions that do not always fit the local contexts of the poor. Including the poor in the development dialogue means broadening the base of knowledge and experience on which decisions are founded. Inclusion helps target programs better, tailor solutions to those in need, and build agency for the poor—all of which may help them improve their position culturally, politically, and eventually in the economic system. Equal agency needs to add to equal opportunity to sustainably alleviate poverty (Rao and Sanyal 2010)

A social audit is a community-led process of reviewing of crucial documents to determine whether the public expenditure and service delivery outcomes reported by the government really reflect the public money spent and the services received by the community. Members of the community collectively participate in a process of verifying government (or private company) documents by comparing them with the realities on the ground and the experiences of the community. Evidence collected during the audit is then reported to the responsible authorities at a public hearing. A social audit provides a way to build effective and meaningful public participation in poor and working class communities by providing a means for the community to engage with the governance processes that affect their lives. The guide can be downloaded above.

Children as advocates

This Handbook is a practical tool for UNICEF and partners in promoting and strengthening child participation in global advocacy. It is based on many years of experiences and lessons learnt. It incorporates minimum standards, protocols and guidelines that UNICEF has used to guide this process.

This training manual is divided into five modules. Each module states clearly its objectives and the various aspects it addresses. The first module deals with industrial relations and trade union economic and social priorities. The second module presents the trade union research methods and procedures. Statistics for trade union actions are discussed in Module Three. The fourth module is devoted to the various aspects related to the functioning of the national economy. The fifth and last module discusses contemporary issues related to economic and social development in Africa.

This toolkit explores ways of working for change by monitoring government policies. It aims to help foster a conversation in society on the policies we choose and how well they work. How this dialogue unfolds will differ from country to country. The aim of the toolkit is to offer information, ideas, examples and methods on how to gather evidence about policies where you are – and to use that evidence to press for change.

This guide was written to empower activists and communities with the knowledge and tools to make local government work.It shows how to engage government from inside, by participating in formal processes like budgeting, Integrated Development Planning (IDP) and elections. It also explains how to influence government from outside by going public through complaints, petitions, protest action, the media and the courts.

The purpose of this guideline is to establish a set of procedures for the implementaion of participatory processes for river basin organisations.

A generic good practice template which government departments can in turn use to develop their own specific public participation guidelines.

This study attempts to distil lessons learned by a handful of African civil society coalitions on the dynamics of demanding improved governance of governments that are often averse to governance reform.

This is a case study for the project entitled: Globalisation, marginalisation and new social movements in post-apartheid South Africa. Examines TAC, its history, key characteristics and strategies to suggest some implications for ways in which democracy can also yield greater social and economic equity.

This discussion paper sets out the framework and guidelines for the foundation on the drafting of a new nonprofit organisations’ legal framework that will regulate the nonprofit sector in South Africa.

This publication places emphasis on (re)claiming local democratic space as a means of engaging/realising the significance of enabling inclusive democratic practices, which offer value and legitimacy to community realities. Otherwise, these spaces tend to become places of exclusion and narrowness. With the 2016 municipal elections looming in South Afirca, the theme of (re)claiming local democratic space is critical in cultivating a relationship between local citizenries and elected representatives. The papers in this publication share experiences of the manifestations of institutionalized and to a large extent passive local democratic spaces in South Africa, which have often lead to mistrust between different interest groups. Furthermore, the papers advocate for (re)claiming local democratic space through meaningful partnerships, participation, and active citizenry as well as the use of different modalities and technologies to encourage and support the voices of local communities. A recurring theme in the publication is the need for meaningful citizen-state engagement that is cultivated by the role of intermediaries in an attempt to achieve the true nature of democracy #socialinnovation


The 20 Year Review synthesis report published in 2014 was informed by several thematic areas. These are regarded as focal areas to tell the story of South Africa’s progress since democracy. The 21 thematic background papers were written by officials in the Presidency and other government departments using research and other evidence to inform progress, sector developments and challenges still remaining. The body of work that went into developing these papers was extensive with the goal of understanding where we came from in order to inform South Africa’s future trajectory.  Each of the thematic papers was based on background papers which are available at the link above.

A GSDRC Helpdesk Report which answers the following questions: Provide examples of African regional professional associations considered effective. What explains their success and what role does leadership play?

This report provides examples of professional and academic associations that work across three or more African countries, and that have some evidence of success. Types of impact are varied, but are usually identified as strong membership, attendance at national or international meetings, awareness of the organisation in the wider sphere, dissemination and uptake of publications, and connection or influence on policy and policymakers. The report particularly tries to draw out any impacts on governance in the wider public sphere, but most of the indicators of success focus on inputs or outputs rather than outcomes, and do not identify broader social or policy change.

The aim of this report is to take up the National Planning Commission’s offer to engage with the National Development Plan Vision 2030. It ams to provide a constructively critical assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the policy proposals of the National Development Plan (NDP) and of the underlying diagnostic studies on which it is based.

All countries in the world acknowledge the universality of the right to education and South Africa (SA) is no exception. According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) as Resolution 44/25 of 20 November 1989,(2) every child has a right to free and compulsory basic education. How successful has SA been in ensuring the realisation of this right? Does the legal, political, economic and social environment in the country promote or constrain this right? Above all, based on what is currently happening in the country, can it be convincingly concluded that the state is committed to the fulfilment of this right for every child? This CAI paper looks at the current South African education environment and examines if such an environment promotes or constrains the realisation of the right to education. CONTINUE READING

This project examined how municipalities interact with marginalised residents in terms of the housing strategies adopted and attempted to explore alternative options for community participation relating to these. The goal was to improve communication between local government authorities and marginalised residents and to ensure that the strategies, policies and actions of local authorities reflect the views of the marginalised. This involved working with both city officials, representatives of civil society, and residents.

The fifth edition of the State of Local Governance from the Good Governance Learning Network which argues that people can and should be in control of their own development, not in isolation from the state or other civic actors, but in direct conversation or, at times, in contestation with these other actors. This requires the design of well-constructed, yet organic, processes that are able to mediate power, difference and diversity in a manner that brings forth transformative outcomes. This publication aims to demonstrate such processes at grassroots level. This edition is dedicated to a subject considered a building block in the national government’s vision for the country and explores how the notion of active citizenship can serve as an analytical concept to review the nature and quality of participatory local democracy in South Africa.

The global synthesis report of the Civil Society at a Crossroads initiative - a collective reflection process about the future of civil society around the world. The initiative is being undertaken by a consortium of civil society support organisations - PRIA, CDRA, PSO, INTRAC, EASUN, and ICD. The report covers the trajectories and events in the 21st century that have brought civil society to a crossroads, the key questions that arise for the future of civil society, and responses to these from civil society actors across the globe. Emerging lessons and implications for civil society are also covered.  A cartoon version is available from the CDRA.

This journal article uses a dispute between a school and the state in contemporary South Africa to examine the complex nature of the relationship between the state and its citizens. It argues that this relationship is best understood as a set of shifting arrangements of authority between bureaucratic institutions, political personalities, the judiciary and, most significantly, South Africa’s citizens themselves. Suggests that traditional models of the state have underestimated the agency of ordinary citizens and that the dispute examined reveals how their actions – made possible by the presumption of their equality with the state and its agents – can influence the development of a local or national political order.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Inter-Parliamentary Union's (IPU) first Global Parliamentary Report. It focuses on the relationship between parliaments and citizens. The report is the result of extensive research, drawing on interviews with parliamentarians, and on inputs provided by parliaments. The report’s findings highlight the diversity of parliamentary systems, reflecting countries’ different historical and political contexts.

There are many dimensions to understanding the dynamics of civil society, the potential for civic actors to contribute to structural changes in unequal power relations, and the roles of external actors in supporting them. This book presents the findings of five research projects that address these key areas in partnership with practitioners, which were presented at an international conference organised by the Hivos-ISS Knowledge Programme on Civil Society in November 2009 in Johannesburg.

This report is the result of a collective process of reflection on the meaning and implications of community protests for local governance. It is the third publication by the GGLN providing a civil society perspective on the state of local governance.

This 48-page study examines the legal frameworks and political space for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to operate in selected countries in order to suggest appropriate approaches for supporting civil society in difficult political contexts. Cases examined were Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Honduras, Kyrgyzstan, Serbia and Uganda.

REMINDER of Youth Day seminar today at 12h30.

In the context of Youth Month this seminar asks how youth activism has changed over the past 39 years since the student uprising that began in Soweto in 1976 – over (ostensibly) the issue of the medium of instruction in schools for black youth. Today we ask youth activists from three universities in South Africa to reflect on their experiences on education and transformation. The call to transform South Africa’s academic institutions is on the rise country wide in the wake of the Rhodes Must Fall movement. The transformation agenda is engendering a new form of youth educational activism that is focusing on issues, inter alia, curriculum reform; demographic diversity within the academy; institutional culture and institutional naming. The seminar seeks to engage the voices of students on these and other pertinent issues related to education and transformation in post-apartheid South Africa.

In a dialogue funded by the IDRC, Idasa considered the space civil society has within the new political dispensation under a Zuma Administration. Further discussion under the auspices of Fredskorpset (FK) and Idasa’s CCEP should be seen as a continuation of this dialogue. To this end the question is not what is the position of civil society under the current administration, but how citizen agency has contributed to the deepening of democracy over the past few months in South Africa. The question was expanded to understand the role of active citizenship on the continent of Africa too.

This documentary, directed by Miki Redelinghuis, chronicles the battle for the land of Makhasaneni – a by-now familiar struggle. In 2011, residents discovered geologists prospecting on their land. Soon afterwards, crops began dying. The soil and water became too contaminated to continue farming. The land, they learned, had been sold to mining giant Jindal Africa by their chief, who got the go-ahead from the Ingonyama Trust. Ingonyama, set up at the tail end of apartheid, holds nearly three million hectares of traditional land in KwaZulu-Natal, with King Goodwill Zwelithini as the sole trustee (Daily Maverick). To arrange screenings go to:

The Africa Platform for Social Protection (APSP) is a network of individuals and organizations operating at grassroots, national and regional levels, with a commitment to promoting a strengthening the social contract between states and citizens.To achieve this, the APSP promotes active engagement of civil society organizations (CSOs) in the shaping of social protection policies, programmes, and practices in Africa.

The Citizens Movement was established by senior leaders from politics, academia, business and civil society, under the leadership of founder Dr Mamphela Ramphele, with the aim of building an engaged and active citizenry by building momentum around key areas that affect South African society. The Citizens Movement will:

  • Develop a portal of information that any citizen can access and contribute to
  • Use tools available through social and digital media platforms for face to face engagement that will raise the profile of issues with decision makers and citizens 
  • Provide co-ordinated campaigns for dialogue, direct engagement and peaceful action through an integrated approach using TV, radio, print, website, polls, surveys, mobi and smses.

This publication offers a number of insights and methodologies related to community-led initiatives for engagement with the local state and for local development, collaborative planning, social accountability tools and other models for community involvement in local development. The contributions are based on existing practices and emerging areas of work of member organisations of the Good Governance Learning Network (GGLN). The contributions in this edited volume, in some way or other, all point to the need for reconceptualising the relationship between the local state and communities in overcoming the ‘governance deficit’. Ultimately, this publication reinforces the imperative to fundamentally rethink what is meant by public participation based on an appreciation of the notion of active citizenship. 

In this issue of From Evidence to Action we focus on PAN: Children, a knowledge portal launched just over a year ago in a partnership between UNICEF and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC). Our Feature traces the ideas and inspiration behind the portal, where we are after a year online and our plans to expand PAN: Children’s facilities and reach. As a learning network we have consulted widely with experts and other platforms and our Case Study highlights an expert retreat and exchange we held in May 2013 where we refined our strategic plans and grappled with issues around policy influencing and key institutional arrangements which we need to put in place. We shine our Spotlight On PAN: Children’s topical guides, the rationale behind them and how they can be updated by online users. Under Toolkits and guidelines we have sourced some useful documents on children’s participation, one of the priority areas for PAN: Children. Our Resources Section collates information about events, opportunities and related documents.

In this issue of From Evidence to Action, we look at the arts and culture sector in South Africa, and the critical role it can play in the development of the country, from economic to skills development, tourism to job creation. In our feature article, we find out about the Southern African Theatre Initiative (SATI) series of provincial indabas and why this consultative process was so important. Continuing this focus on consultation, we also present several toolkits for improving public participation in our Tools section. We examine the crucial role networks can play for development and training in the arts and culture sector in our case study on the National Community Theatre for Education and Development (NACTED) and our Spotlight on the Arterial Network, which seeks to promote and develop the arts in Africa. Finally, our Resources section is packed with information about what is going on currently in policy and legislation, recent reports and relevant links.

This annotated bibliography was prepared as a resource for people working on different dimensions of social power, social participation and social accountability in health. A universal health system values and ensures the right to health care, entitling all citizens in a country to access the same range of services according to their need and pay for these services according to their income. Achieving this calls for more than technical solutions. It demands public leadership and people’s power to assert social needs and interests , to influence the allocation of societal resources towards health needs and to challenge the distribution of power and resources that block this. Social power, participation and accountability are thus central concepts in building people centred health systems.

Government policy & legislation

This discussion paper sets out the framework and guidelines for the foundation on the drafting of a new nonprofit organisations’ legal framework that will regulate the nonprofit sector in South Africa.