"A hungry stomach knows no allegiance": Transactional activism in community protests in Ficksburg

  • Sethulego Matebesi University of the Free State, South Africa
Keywords: Community protests, Leadership, Service delivery, Social movement organisation, State-citizen engagement, Transactional activism, Ficksburg, Gemeenskapsprotesaksies, Leierskap, Dienslewering, Sosiale beweging-organisasies, Staat-burger-interaksie, Transaksionele aktivisme


Over the past few years, there has been a renewed focus on leadership in social movements. While leadership is central in creating organisational capacity for collective action, not many studies focus on leadership engagement practices – a crucial element for movement goal attainment. Utilising the concept of “transactional activism” – the process whereby state actors manage challengers by providing benefits and a myriad of other opportunities to selected leaders – this article examines how the engagement practices of civic group leaders influence community protests. It does so by drawing on an extensive case study of the nature and patterns of engagements between the leaders of the Meqheleng Concerned Citizens (MCC) civic group and state actors, as well as community perceptions about such engagements during three community protests in Ficksburg during 2011. The analysis reveals that transactional activism generates substantial problems for civic organisations engaged in community protests. The complex engagements between civic group leaders and state actors reflect a value shift from attaining collective benefits for the groups towards protest leaders that are inherently predisposed to pursuing their own interests. The study generates several conclusions about how transactional activism derails opportunities to deal with the fundamental grievances of communities. These unresolved grievances are one of the reasons for the high prevalence of recurrent and violent community protests in different parts of South Africa.


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