Project Description

Nompumelelo Runji

Nompumelelo Runji Democracy Fellow OSF-SA 25 years in South AfricaActive Citizenship: Community Protests and Political Participation in South Africa

Nompumelelo is a professional moderator, facilitator, writer, and panellist. She is a thought leader with a solid track record in policy and political analysis. She is featured regularly in online and print media, as well as on radio and television. With years of experience as a communicator and researcher, she has authored and contributed to books, papers, and articles. She writes a weekly column, that has been running since 2014, for the Sowetan, South Africa’s second-biggest daily newspaper, providing analysis on socio-political developments that have implications for democratic consolidation and deepening and governance in the country.

Nompumelelo is also an academic and has been a part-time lecturer in the University of Pretoria’s Department of Political Sciences since 2016, where she is currently pursuing her PhD under a Mellon Foundation Scholarship. Her research focus is analysing the effects of social media on political agency and the implications for democratic consolidation and deepening. The research employs social media use among #FeesMustFall activists as a case study. She holds a Bachelor of Social Sciences degree in Industrial Sociology and Labour Studies, a Bachelor of Arts Honours in Political Science, as well as an MPhil in Multidisciplinary Human Rights from the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria, where she wrote a mini-dissertation on the constitutional reform process in Kenya with a particular focus on the appointment of judges and the implications of judicial reform for democratic consolidation.


In modern democracies, the participatory elements of democracy – where citizens should take the lead in deliberating on policy options and play a key role in decision-making – are minimised while the role of Parliament and the executive is amplified. Popular consent through voting at elections is prized over popular participation in between elections. And, indeed, many a citizen is happy to limit their engagement with the political system to just voting. South Africa is no exception.

The South African political institutional framework is premised on the dispersion and devolution of power vertically and horizontally in the state to ensure the accountability of elected representatives and public officials, as well as to secure their adherence to the rule of law. In addition, the Constitution demands that the government engage in public consultation at every level of government (national, provincial and local) and, in the conduct of its business, in the formulation of policy as well as in the process of law-making.

Yet discontent with the status quo and the slow pace of transformation has expressed itself, on the one hand, in the resurgence of grassroots social movements and civic organisations advocating and litigating for access to human rights and quality services, and against corruption. On the other hand, disillusionment with the status quo has led to the exponential rise in community protests. In this instance, the trend is to abandon formal platforms of engagement with the government. And, given the local nature of these demonstrations, they are indicative of the crisis in local government, which has been well articulated and elaborated on in successive reports of the Auditor-General.

Nompumelelo’s project explores the promotion of political agency and the development of the ‘active democratic spirit’ (active  citizenship) through attempting to answer key questions around citizens’ knowledge of the participatory framework, barriers to  participation, restoring faith in democratic participation, democratic and political education, the rights and duties of citizens to  participate and the value of community engagement, and how political party manifestos engage with public and community concerns. In addition, it explores how political and legal institutions – more specifically, public officials and elected representatives that are more loyal to party than the electorate – can be encouraged to engage more positively with, and be more responsive to, active citizens.