Throughout history, humans have had a strong tradition of voluntarily banding together for enforcing their democratic rights, supporting a cause, or even for economic gain. This act of solidarity to achieve a shared goal has occurred in all types of political systems. Beyers and Binderkrantz (2013:371) also stated that “Interest groups constitute important channels for mobilizing citizens”. Ideally, they work to ensure that the views of a wide range of citizens are considered in democratic processes. Navigating the political terrain to influence public policy can be almost impossible alone. Many people join with likeminded individuals in interest groups. Interest groups are also called pressure groups because they exert pressure on policy makers to influence public policies and to give benefits to the individuals.
The promotion of democracy over the years was done by a range of interest groups and the strength and support they get from the public enabled them to carry on enforcing and promoting democracy. In south Africa interest groups are further the mouthpiece of the public like any other democratic countries, Therefore (Harcourt 2016:01) stated that in the United States of America interest groups work closely with members of Congress and the administration to draft legislation and policy initiatives, provide information both to government and the public on a broad range of topical issues, and contribute significantly to political campaigns and political campaigns to the public . The number of interest groups has grown dramatically in recent years, and the promotion of democracy became even more important to the citizens of South Africa.
Therefore, in this paper we focus on the significance and roles of these interest groups in promoting democracy in the Republic of South Africa. As a democracy develops and matures, the number of interest groups attempting to voice their interests with respect to trade policies on promoting democracy tends to increase (Lee 2010:10), the promotion of democracy interest groups are the way new ideas are introduced into society. If we scan through the pages of South African history, we can observe the growth of pressures on, firstly, the colonial government and, secondly, the Union government. As the wealth of South Africa became to be revealed, so interests were created which sought, from time to time, to obtain concessions from the various governments of the day. We are, however, less interested in the history of groups but rather more in their impact or significance in promoting democracy in South Africa.
2. DEFINITION OF CONCEPTS
2.1 interest groups
Tsujinaka (2007:6) explained that interest groups social group, particularly one with permanent organization, which attempts to realize its interests by exercising influence, in the broad sense, over politics and society. Therefore, any group performing the “function” of realizing group interest is an interest group. Furthermore, as far as Truman (1951: 38) is concerned, the concept pressure group invokes a sense of ‘sel?shness’ and that ‘special rights and privileges’ are sought by these groups from other political actors. Similarly, Moulder et al. (1982:32) prefer to use interest group because pressure group implies negativity towards these organizations. One of the reasons for this negative image of pressure groups, as Mackenzie (1955:23) declares, is that pressure always invokes power politics.
According to Almond and Powell (1980:35) interest groups are “a group of individuals who are linked by a particular bond or concern of advantage and who have awareness of those bonds” and that the interest groups are formed “to increase the strength and effectiveness of individual demands”. 4 Interest Group has also been described as any association that tries to secure from the state policies favourable to its member or followers. Even so, over the years, the concept ‘interest group’ has been used with wantonness, which caused unnecessary disorder about its actual meaning (Geldenhuys 1998:34). It follows then that a common denominator that is employed in almost all de?nitions is ‘in?uence on governmental/public policies’. Traditionally, in?uence is a component of power (Holsti 1995: 118) and is related to the actions of interest groups within their relationship with government or any other entity like an international organisation or ?nancial institution.
Some of the path-breaking studies that have investigated this topic do suggest that, in general, the prevailing understanding of “democracy” across the world tends to be a liberal one, with a particular emphasis on freedoms and basic human rights, sometimes even above and beyond the notion that democracy is about elections, majority rule, or political competition (Dalton, Shin & Jou, 2007; Fuchs and Roller, 2006; Simon, 1998; Camp, 2001). However, it has also been shown that the notion of “democracy” is sometimes associated not so much (or not only) with either liberal or electoral principles, but rather with particular social and economic outcomes (McIntosh, MacIver, Dobson, & Grant, 1993; Shin, 1999). Furthermore, democracy is known to be government by the people; especially rule of the majority and a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections(Wilson 1990:76)
3. SOUTH AFRICAN INTEREST GROUPS (BACKGROUND)
Interest groups have played a significant role in South African politics, although until apartheid was abolished the primary criterion for interest articulation was race, more often than economic issues. Interest groups work to achieve the goals of a ethnic community (Afrikaner, Xhosa, Zulu), racial group (white, black, coloured, or Indian), or other category of persons sharing a common goal. Leonard Thompson and Andrew Prior, in their book South African Politics, describe apartheid-era attempts by groups such as the Afrikaner Broederbond to win political influence in the parliament and the executive branch in order to maintain the status quo, while others, such as trade unions, sought to change labor relations and economic policy.
Still other interest groups, such as the South African Media Council, had specific goals, in this case the establishment of a free and independent press. Finally, several organizations that were effectively banned from the political arena, such as the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM), continued to function as political interest groups during the apartheid era.Within this system, the Afrikaner interest groups were the most influential, as they constituted an element in the country’s ruling elite. After apartheid was abolished.
however, interest-group politics began to change. Many organizations abandoned their ethnically based, secretive, extra parliamentary, or underground characteristics to meet the challenges of the new nonracial, open, and democratic political order (McKenzie 1955:43).
4. THE SIGNIFICANCE AND ROLES OF INTEREST GROUPS IN PROMOTING DEMOCRACY IN SOUTH AFRICA
There is no doubt that interest groups play an important role in a democratic society. However, while some are essential in enhancing democracy in the society, some undermine democracy. Democracy can be described as a form of political leadership in which all policies and decisions are arrived at based on the principle of majority rule. In South Afrca, the citizens elect their political representatives after a specified period. Democratic election of representatives is governed by the principles of fairness, political equality and freedom where all the individuals who are eligible voters exercise their rights to make a choice between political partners. Interests groups, otherwise known as pressure groups play an important role in the establishment of pluralism in a democratic society. There is no doubt that the political representative in any society does not provide sufficient representation of all the interests in the society.
In any society, there are diverse opinions and interests that the modern democratic structures in the political parties cannot adequately deal with. This is because of the structures of political parties which aggregate the interests of the society to establish an entity that can govern the entire country. This makes them disabled to dealing with some basic democracy issues affecting some individuals in the country. The interest groups in such democratic societies enable such individuals’ interests and opinions to be heard and have an influence of the decision-making process (Shin, 1999:32). Therefore, mobilizing citizens and creating a format to voice out their concerns is important, and the most important of democracy is the participation of the masses in all democratic processes. Interest groups in a South Africa play an important role in promoting political participation in the society and that itself enhances democracy.
Although voting is the most basic process in a democratic society, it does not provide the people with the ability to influence the politics of the country. People may participate in the voting process but may not have the strength to express their views individually to their representatives. Additionally, the political parties may not have all the powers to influence the people to participate in essential political practices such as voting. By people coming together which are facilitated by interest groups, they can push forwards their ideas and feelings about a policy issue. Other than influencing each other in making the right decision in the voting process, individuals within an interest group can take collective actions which will have a greater influence in the decision-making process (Wilson, 1990). Interest groups also mobilize individuals with certain opinions about governance and decisions made in the country to protest political decisions that they are not satisfied. Through these street protests, the masses can express their dissatisfaction thus enhancing democracy (Moulder, 1982).
Interests groups play a complementary role of political parties, It is common for many citizens to rally behind a particular political party but are not satisfied by the running of the party. The majority may be unhappy with the position held by their political party on key issues on governance and legislation. Through pressure groups within the political party, they can influence the position of the party on the issues which may not be possible if an individual member of the party seeks to influence the party’s position. For example, individuals within a party may use pressure groups to influence the party’s position and include environmental protection or health care as one of the party’s political agenda. These issues may not be part of the party manifesto but if it is in the best interest of the party and the public, interest groups can be used to incorporate the issues into the political agenda (Wilson, 1990). Through them, we hone our ideas and gain courage from the knowledge that we are not alone in our beliefs. Interest groups give breadth, depth and volume to our voice. In and of themselves, such groups are not only inevitable, they are healthy. Furthermore, forecasting on the significance and roles of interest groups we find that interest groups are associated with greater stability in some measures of policy and that groups mediate the stabilizing impact of democracy on policy.
Through the interest groups people ideas and concerns are heard and practiced, it cannot be said that the interest groups only uphold their own interest as it needs the public to also be of importance. Advocates of interest groups in South Africa and abroad about democratic societies have argued that these groups triumph over the deficits that are inherent in any democracy. It is important to note that there are many factors in the political structures in the society that results into inadequacy in democratic processes and consequently the deficit (Camp 2001:78). One of these factors is the infrequent in which the elections of political representatives are carried out. In many democracies around the world, election of representatives is carried out after five or so years. In such cases, interest’s groups play an important role in proving a solution to these inadequacies in the democratic process. Although there are other remedies to the arrears in a democracy, there is no doubt that interest groups enhance democracy (Geldenhuys, 1998).
It has also been observed that in some democratic countries such as Britain, the people representatives, who are the members of parliament are impaired in their ability to scrutinize the activities of the central government (Dalton 2007:24). In such countries, the interest groups play a major role in enhancing democracy by ensuring that the people representatives are informed of public satisfaction with the government activities. The interest groups in this case act as informal researchers who give briefing to the people’s representatives. The existeces of interest groups that promote the welfare of marginalized individuals promote democracy by combating the elite’s interests in the society and ensuring that the disadvantaged are heard. In other words, the interest groups empower the citizens to fight for their democratic rights (Holsti, 1995). In a democratic society like South Africa, the interest groups provide an important linkage between the people and the government. Due to this link, the government is more responsible and remains focused on the interests of the public while promoting democratic citizenship.
They provide a vital channel through which information flows from the public to the government and the reverse. They inform and advise the government as well as the public on appropriate actions to take concerning emerging issues in the society Wilson, 1990). Despite these important roles played by the interest groups in promoting democracy in the society, some people have argued that they undermine and distort democracy and political systems in a country. For example, the interest group may represent a minority group in the society but be powerful enough to influence the decision in the country. This undermines the basic principle of democracy, majority always rules.
This happens when the minorities through the powerful interest groups can influence decisions and policies that are against the will of the majority. These undemocratic practices that are promoted by interest groups are very common in trade unions and pressure groups with commercial and business affiliations. In many cases, the level of influence by a certain interest group in the country is determined by the financial and economic position of the pressure group or its members( Fusch 2006:54). Some interest groups are either too powerful or may promote corruption in a country. This limits its ability to promote the democracy and the interests of the general public. For example, interest groups pushing for the interests of the manufactures may be too powerful to influence decisions that favor the manufacturers at the expense of the public. Moreover, such interest groups may finance political campaigns in anticipation that they will obtain favors in the long run.
Democracy alone cannot be uplifted which is why interest groups mobilize the individuals and try to enhance democracy. However, Democracy and Interest Groups assesses the contribution that interest groups make to the democratic involvement of citizens and the generation of social capital. The decade of 1960s demonstrated that democracy did not function through individuals making the coercive state but through various interest groups, expanding politics and democratic ideals of freedom, rights and need for political participation in South Africa. Interest groups both shape and promote public opinions and does not leave the issues the individuals face, it increases the ideas and mandates that the individuals need and tries to implement them. Besides a significant focus on how groups mobilize their members, attention has been perhaps more fruitfully spent on assessing how groups go about affecting government decisions.
Interest groups have played and will continue to play fundamental roles in all democratic systems.
interest groups play a major role in promoting or undermining democracy in a country. They are therefore good and at the same time bad in any democratic society. However, the large number of interest groups around the world indicates that they are successful in their mandate. They enable the general members of the public to have an influence on the decision-making processes thus enhancing democracy but can have negative effects if not well regulated. Democracy is a very strong determinant of strength of interest groups across countries. Interest groups play an important role as the voice of the people to advocate for their rights and push forward their agenda. Thus, without some interest groups or pressure groups, the voice and rights o the people can easily be stifled by a rogue administration or government.
Certain interest groups are strong enough to influence legislation and promote democracy in a way the public needs and by convincing the government to pass laws that protects public interests. Interest groups also have a responsibility to exercise oversight over decisions made by those in authority. They monitor and take corrective action to address oppressive decisions or actions by the government. Interest groups contribute a helpful democratic process to protect certain individuals as alternative in daunting the majority, Because of this, many people have the freedom to express and speak their suggestions and opinions. In the US political system, there exist the principles of democracy, which include the majority rule, but there is also the protection of rights of people who do not belong to the majority. Interest groups, such as those based on gender, ethnic and religious identities, can perform important checks on the powers of the majority.
Some yet can argue that they work to benefit themselves leaving the people vulnerable and not maintaining their objectives of democratic stability. Nonetheless, Members of interest groups and other social movements believe that they should better advance their causes and interests, whether it is protecting civil rights, voting rights and the environment, by uniting themselves for collective action. By doing so, they demonstrate strength in numbers when it comes to politics.