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Social Movements

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Kate Nash claims “that social movements have such a central place in the understanding of new forms of politics in the field is largely due to the way in which they have been placed on the research agenda by those sympathetic to, or actively involved in, those politics.” (Nash, 2012: 87) From this statement it is clear social movements have played a crucial role in defining South Africa in terms of social and political status, and they have been the source of many of our current laws and norms that we conform to today. Throughout history there has been debate on whether the terms ‘old’ and ‘new’ social movements are practical when discussing them within a South African context. In this essay, the various characteristics of both ‘old’ and ‘new’ social movements will be discussed in detail so as to understand what each entails, and examples will be given of each. From this, the usefulness of the distinction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ social movements in the post-1994 South African context will be explored so as to come to a conclusion regarding their use in South African history. Reference will be made to the studies of Kate Nash, Richard Ballard et al., Thokazani Nzimakwe and Tsepho Madlingozi
‘Old’ social movements tend to emphasise labour movements and parties that focus movement was seen as directing its attention towards the corporatist state. “ (Nash, 2010: 88) In simpler words, ‘old’ social movements are oriented towards the state, and are therefore emphasise structural hierarchy. ‘Old’ social movements are also seen as having an instrumental role, meaning that their members take part for specific reasons, such as to make money. There are many examples of movements which fall into the category of ‘old’ social movements in South Africa, and these include Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), many of the labour oriented movements and most of the women’s movements such as Self-Employed Women’s union. According to Nash (2010: 89) “women’s groups worked either within the state, advising on liberal policy and lobbying ministers or, in the working class movement, campaigning for better social conditions for poor wives and mothers.” This, once again, emphasises the fact that ‘old’ social movements have their roots in the state.
On the other hand, ‘new’ social movements emphasise civil society, rather than the state, and are more loosely and less hierarchically structured. “Civil society can be defined as ‘the organized expression of various interests and values operating in the triangular space between the family, state and the market’…this definition conceptualises civil society as an entity distinct from both the market and the state.” (Ballard et al., 2006: 400) New Social Movement emphasises the fact that mobilisation is also about the resources that are not so physical and ‘out there’. Such resources include ‘cultural resources’. Due to the fact that ‘new’ social movements are more fragmented and do not exist at a national level, they are comprised of smaller organizations or “networks” such as NGO’s (non-governmental organizations), which are “private, self-governing, non-profit organisations, promoting people-centred development” (Nzimakwe 2008: 90). They have a less instrumental focus, as members do not take part for specific and individual benefit. “Some aspects of the organization of new social movements do distinguish them from formal political organizations, to the extent that the term ‘network’ is often a better description than ‘organization’” (Nash: 2010: 89) This term, ‘organization’ shows how ‘new’ social movements are more of a collection of unlinked, smaller groups of people who do not all conform to the laws/ norms of a national state. Examples of ‘new’ social movements include AIDS movements, Homeless People’s federation, Gay Liberation movements and marches, and all types of environmental movements such as Green Peace Movement and World Wildlife Foundation (WWF).
As to whether the distinction between ‘new’ and ‘old’ social movements is useful in the post-1994 context, the argument is two-fold. Firstly, the fact that there is a conceptual distinction between the two is most certainly useful in that each has their own, distinct set of characteristics that make them different. It is clear from the above given set of information that ‘old’ and ‘new’ social movements have different aims and work at different levels, specifically in the way that ‘old’ social movements are state oriented at a national level, whereas ‘new’ social movements emphasise civil society and smaller ‘networks’ rather than organizations.
Having said this, it is clearly evident that social movements in both pre- apartheid and present times are, in fact, of both categories. The question now arises as to whether the terms ‘old’ and ‘new’ are relevant to describe the different types of social movements. COSATU, for example, falls under the category of ‘old’ social movements, yet it is a movement that is still running in full force today. Here the problem of ‘definition’ also arises, as COSATU was created pre-1994, but still runs strongly post 1994. This is also the case with the many labour movements that exist. It is clear from this argument that the two distinct forms of social movements are labelled in a manner that is ambiguous, and therefore not ‘correct’. This can also be seen in the fact that we still have movements running today that have the goals and aims that are described under the category of ‘old’ social movements. The after effects of apartheid, namely inequality and poverty, have led to many of the so called ‘new’ movements incorporating characteristics such as hierarchy and class into their goals and values, which originated in the ‘old’ social movements.
In conclusion, one can see that the question of whether the distinction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ social movements is useful in post-1994 South African contexts is a complicated and multi-layered one. Before answering the question, it is important to define what exactly is meant by ‘old’ and ‘new’ social movements so as to eradicate any ambiguity. From the evidence I have given above, it is clear that there is a distinction between the two categories of social movements that are labelled ‘old’ and ‘new’ in terms of the differing characteristics of each. Having said this, the fact that these categories are labelled in a way that implies that the ‘old’ movements existed pre-1994, and the ‘new’ movements are the more modern, post-1994 movements, causes some confusion. It is therefore fairly difficult to say whether the ‘old’ and ‘new’ are useful when referring to the post-1994 context in South Africa.

References:
Kate Nash. 2010. “Social Movements”, Contemporary Political Sociology: Globalization, Politics, and Power. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, pp 87-130.

Thokazani I. Nzimakwe. 2008. South Africa’s NGOs and the quest for development, International NGO Journal, 3 (5), pp 90-97.

Richard Ballard, Adam Habib and Imraan Valodia. 2006. “Social Movements in South Africa: promoting crisis or creating stability?” in Vishnu Padayachee (ed), The Development Decade? Economic and Social Change in South Africa, 1994-2004. Cape Town: HSRC Press.

Tsepho Madlingozi. 2007. Post Apartheid Social Movements and the Quest for the Elusive “New’ South Africa, Journal of Law and Society, pp 77-98.

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