chapter  6
16 Pages

Democracy from below: EU support to community- based advice organizations

Introduction During the last years of apartheid rule, civil society organizations (CSOs) gradually became the privileged partners of the European efforts to support democratization in the country. As discussed in Chapter 5, the preference behind this funding of civil society was – at least in part – due to some Member States’ reluctance to engage in a more political terrain. Thus, to avoid direct politicization of its pro-democracy work in South Africa, the European Commission funnelled its civil society aid through a number of umbrella organizations. Some of these intermediaries represented faith-based groups, such as the South African Council of Churches and the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, which supported local religious organizations operating in townships and rural communities. In order to reach non-religious organizations, the Commission promoted the establishment of Kagiso Trust, an independent foundation whose task was to redistribute European aid to various types of organizations, from advocacy NGOs to small community-based activist groups.1 Until 1994, the bulk of civil society aid was administered under the so-called Special Programme for the Victims of Apartheid, which – as discussed in Chapter 5 – became operational in 1986 and distinguished itself as the largest initiative adopted by a foreign institution in South Africa (Holland 1988, 1997b; Landsberg 2000). After 1994, the EU began to revise its democratization strategy in order to establish partnership agreements with the newly democratic government. In its official rhetoric, South African civil society continued to occupy centre stage, although this time the emphasis was on building the capacity of civil society to work effectively with government on the design and implementation of development policies (European Commission 2003a). At the grassroots level, the EU started implementing a support programme for local advice community-based organizations (CBOs) in the mid-1990s (see Chapter 4). Some of them received financial support as early as 1993 to run voter education projects for the first national election. It was only in 1996, though, that the Foundation for Human Rights was established to channel EU aid to local civil society. Through the FHR, European aid to grassroots CBOs was finally institutionalized and became one of its most relevant long-term programmes.