South Africa (SA) faces numerous challenges: a struggling economy, poverty, and income
inequality. At the same time, corruption scandals, state capture, and a lack of progress
with improving the lives of the vast majority of the population, decades after SA became a
democratic state, suggest a need to rethink the modes of engagement by different actors within society if the government is to effectively serve its citizens. In particular, multi-stakeholder partnerships are the key to sustainable development, which is what SA needs. Positive change is possible when an engagement among citizens, government, and the private sector takes place, resulting in the reshaping of beliefs and influencing the governmental decision-making process and its outcomes.
It is almost taken for granted that the government is solely responsible for solving the
country’s problems. Constant change, ambiguity, uncertainty, and raising citizens’ expectations stretch the government’s ability to face these challenges almost to breaking point. Our everyday experiences indicate that government is struggling to provide the answers to all the pressing issues facing SA, such as unemployment, migration, poverty, and the growing divide between rich and poor. In these circumstances, in order to find the innovative solutions that work for all, the notions of government, governance, and the engagement of government with other stakeholders, including business and civil society, have to be redefined.
In this chapter, we are going to explore strategic communication in the context of a broader society. In particular, we examine the relationship between the government and contemporary civil society. The chapter begins with an introduction to the concepts of civil society and discusses the role of the public sphere in a democracy, highlighting the importance of a robust societal dialogue and the need for participation of various social actors in societal discourses. Further in the chapter, we critically look at different meanings of power within society and introduce the concept of biopower as a positive societal resource. In order to understand the role of stakeholder engagement in building social capital, we first critically discuss what stakeholder engagement is and identify the necessary principles for true engagement, namely: dialogue, transparency, and the existence of suitable engagement spaces. Recognising the role of government as a powerful actor in any society, we look at the characteristics, objectives, and the changing nature of government communication.