Clientelism as civil society? Unpacking the relationship between clientelism and democracy at the local level in South Africa
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This article, building on analyses from the global south, attempts to reframe democratic expectations by considering where previously maligned practices such as clientelism may hold moments of democracy. It does so by comparing the theory of civil society with that of clientelism, and its African counterpart neo-patrimonialism. It argues that clientelism as civil society may fulfil democratic tasks such as holding the (local) state accountable, strengthening civil and political liberties and providing channels of access for previously marginalised groups. Clientelism is not necessarily a reflection of imposed power relations but, at times, can demonstrate a conscious political strategy, to generate development, on the part of its protagonists.