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Walking the tightrope: the funding of South African NGOs and the governance of community development.

Mueller-Hirth, Natascha



Niamh McCrea

Fergal Finnegan


This chapter examines the role of intermediary NGOs in community development in Post-Apartheid South Africa, specifically exploring how these organisations have been shaped by changing funding modalities. The South African non-profit sector is very large and diverse, encompassing a great variety of organisations that differ in size, scope, activities, political orientation and location. Habib's (2003) typology remains useful in making sense of Post-Apartheid civil society, which he argues is made up of three blocs: 'formal' NGOs, 'survivalist' community-based organisations (CBOs) and social movements. In this chapter, community development is understood as essentially contested, enabling empowering and less empowering practices and policies to emerge from, and for, communities. Importantly, the chapter resists a vertical understanding of power in which communities or civil society 'at the bottom' are contrasted with the state 'at the top'. Rather, communities are elements in the transnational and multi-scalar governance of development; community development is also a discourse that corporations, NGOs and the state all employ to gain legitimacy. The following section summarises the socio-historical developments that have enabled NGOs to become such significant actors in community development. The chapter will then examine partnerships as a specific neoliberal mode of funding that has shaped the role of NGOs in community development. It is argued that partnerships provide a context within which shared values, practices and techniques appropriate to particular, often neoliberal, forms of community development, can be developed in NGOs. Partnerships link intermediary NGOs with corporations, the state and communities and are shown to enable claims of legitimacy, build consensus building through homogenisation, and necessitate particular auditing techniques and capabilities.


MUELLER-HIRTH, N. 2019. Walking the tightrope: the funding of South African NGOs and the governance of community development. In McCrea, N. and Finnegan, F. (eds.) Funding, power and community development. Bristol: Policy Press [online], chapter 3, pages 39-53.

Acceptance Date Nov 27, 2017
Online Publication Date Jan 23, 2019
Publication Date Jan 23, 2019
Deposit Date Mar 26, 2018
Publicly Available Date Jan 24, 2021
Publisher Policy Press
Pages 39-53
Series Title Rethinking community development
Book Title Funding, power and community development
Chapter Number Chapter 3
ISBN 9781447336150 ; 9781447336174
Keywords NGOs; Community development; South Africa; Partnerships
Public URL
Publisher URL


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