What role do civil society groups like Black Sash play today?

In the 90’s there was an assumption that we were all pulling the same direction, but as things moved on it became clear that there were certain things where there were fault lines and we were not on the same page, particularly around HIV/Aids and that’s how we saw the emergence of the Treatment Action Campaign....

Dr Mbongeiseni Butlhelezi,Research Manager Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI)

And from there I think we have seen a growth in organizations that have tried to hold the state to account while at the same time trying to work with the state to achieve something in society.

Dr Mbongeiseni Butlhelezi,Research Manager Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI)

Civil society groups like the Treatment Action Campaign have played an increasingly crucial role in holding government to account over the course of our democracy.

It is however movements like Black Sash who have had a long standing impact on issues of social justice and have evolved since apartheid.

Looking at how they have managed to forge a space in public discourse, and with the changing political climate, Eusebius McKaiser spoke to Mary Burton former Black Sash president from 1985-1990, current advocacy manager Elroy Paulus, as well as Dr Mbongeiseni Butlhelezi of the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI).

They highlight what's been at stake in their work with government and current fault lines with the state.

With the gradual build up of this dramatic mass based movement against apartheid we found ourselves swept up into that movement...we felt ourselves even in the troubled 1980's feeling ourselves part of the new South Africa that we knew was coming.

Mary Burton, former Black Sash president 1985-1990

It is sometimes confusing and lonely working in the Black Sash post 1995.... to work in the shadow of what was a movement and is now an NPO is a very daunting task.

Elroy Paulus, Advocacy Manager at Black Sash

Most of our work before was around advocacy and that when we worked with senior state officials... The individuals that are now in the spotlight, particularly former DG Zane Dangor, Sassa CEO Thokozani Magwaza. In part I think their hand was strengthened by the advocacy work we did within a ministerial task team appointed by the minister to stop unlawful immoral deductions.

Elroy Paulus, Advocacy Manager at Black Sash

Unfortunately we had to go the litigation route in order to make sure that the rights of civil society is not appropriated or captured by the state.

Elroy Paulus, Advocacy Manager at Black Sash

Speaking to Black Sash's contemporary role, Paulus says while the focus is largely on holding government to account the role of the private sector should also be taken into account.

Financial service providers that in our minds include, Net1, Cash Paymaster Services and all its sister companies....often the derision and the criticism is only geared toward officials, rightly so but I think the hand that moves behind that is often not visible and don't held to account, that's the space we find ourselves in.

Elroy Paulus, Advocacy Manager at Black Sash

Listen to the full debate below to hear public perceptions of civil groups and what more can be done to involve citizens......

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