From Revolution to Rights in South Africa

From Revolution to Rights in South Africa

Social Movements, NGOs and Popular Politics After Apartheid

Steven L. Robins


James Currey



The author argues for the continued importance of NGOs, social movements and other 'civil society' actors in creating new forms of citizenship and democracy in South Africa.
Critics of liberalism in Europe and North America argue that a stress on 'rights talk' and identity politics has led to fragmentation, individualisation and depoliticisation. But are these developments really signs of 'the end of politics'? In the post-colonial, post-apartheid, neo-liberal new South Africa poor and marginalised citizens continue to struggle for land, housing and health care. They must respond to uncertainty and radical contingencies on a daily basis. This requires multiple strategies, an engaged, practised citizenship, one that links the daily struggle to well organised mobilisation around claiming rights. Robins argues for the continued importance of NGOs, social movements and other 'civil society' actors in creating new forms of citizenship and democracy. He goes beyond the sanitised prescriptions of 'good governance' so often touted by development agencies. Instead he argues for a complex, hybrid and ambiguous relationship between civil society and the state, where new negotiations around citizenship emerge.
Steven L. Robins is Professor of Social Anthropology in the University of Stellenbosch and editor of Limits to Liberation after Apartheid (James Currey).
Southern Africa (South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland): University of KwaZulu-Natal Press (PB)

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5 line illustrations
208 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Paperback, 9781847012012, November 2010
Hardback, 9781847012029, November 2008
Library eBook
James Currey
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Table of Contents

Activist mediations of 'rights' & indigenous identity
Citizens & 'bushmen': the khomani San, NGOs & the making of a new social movement
'Civil society' & popular politics in the postcolony: 'deep democracy' & deep authoritarianism at the tip of Africa?
AIDS, science & the making of a social movement
AIDS activism & biomedical citizenship in South Africa
Rights passages from 'near death' to 'new life': AIDS activism & new HIV-identities in South Africa
Sexual rights & sexual cultures: AIDS activism, sexual politics & 'new masculinities' after apartheid
Conclusion: beyond rights & the limits of liberalism


A sophisticated and nuanced work. AFRICAN STUDIES REVIEW

An upbeat analysis of rights-based civic society in contemporary South Africa. CONTEMPORARY REVIEW

In this magnificent book, unearthing case studies from academic journals, Robins examines rights-based social movements and the resurgence of the 'traditional' in communal identity politics. Highly recommended. CHOICE

This illuminating post-apartheid ethnography deserves close study by anyone concerned with popular politics in the globalising South. Robins freely intersperses high-level social theory with carefully selected case studies and vignettes. TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION SUPPLEMENT
[...] an important book, setting out as it does a strong argument for rejecting some of the more cynical analyses suggesting an end of politics. Based on some rich empirical case studies it offers some fascinating insights into the post-apartheid dilemmas in South Africa. - Ian Scoones, IDS, Sussex