South Africa’s history of multiple social formations, created over the centuries, has profoundly affected the evolution of the large and diverse group of organizations that can only with great conceptual difficulty be categorised as the ‘non-profit sector’. To the extent that this is a coherent group, its diversity reflects the complexities of present-day South Africa, incorporating the residues of the past. Few would question that non-profit organisations (NPOs) have profoundly influenced the emergence, shape and nature of modern South African society, although a comprehensive history of non-profit organisational and associational life still needs to be written.
Even though ‘non-profit organisation’ is a new-and largely imported – term in South Africa’s sociological lexicon, it is so widely defined that it captures everything from the racially exclusive cultural and welfarist organisations that have always been central to the social structure of white society, right through the entire spectrum of religious organisations, to the huge and dense networks of community-based NPOs that hold African societies together.
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