Analysing micro-assistance to democracy: the European Community supporting grassroots organisations in South Africa

The promotion of democracy has often been a top-down process characterised by assistance policies targeted toward the macro level. When bottom-up policies have been attempted, they too have tended to address professionalised NGOs, with scarce grassroots membership and contact. Only over the past few years have donors begun to implement programmes aimed at developing what can be called `micro-assistance' to democracy, defined as democracy assistance directed to small, often community-based, organisations in the field. This article describes the EU's micro-assistance to democracy in South Africa after 1994. The data gathered comes from interviews conducted with project officials and semi-structured interviews with all directors of Community-Based Organisations that have received funds from the EU. Some preliminary findings suggest that micro-assistance to democracy in South Africa responds to specific problems affecting local civil society, even though most of these organisations remain scarcely sustainable and their skills to influence local policies are limited.