What is civil society when it stops being civil? That question was posed by the NGO (nongovernmental organization) Forum against Racism at Durban in August 2001. The Forum preceded by three days and overlapped by two the intergovernmental World Conference Against Racism.

The NGO Forum and the intergovernmental World Conference were held at neighbouring venues. The Forum was held in tents set up outside and within the oval of the Durban Kingsmead Cricket Grounds. The Conference was held across the street at the Durban International Convention Centre.

Nongovernmental forums have been paralleling intergovernmental forums for decades. They are a lobbying opportunity, a chance to present an unofficial perspective, a reality check, the presentation to the media and the world of more than just the official line.

However, despite their extensive history, each new forum is a new experience. The non-governmental world is, by its nature, not institutionalised. Any group of individuals anywhere and for any purpose can form a nongovernmental organization. Along with the few, well established, well known organizations, there are thousands of organizations that represent just a few individuals and a very specific cause. Each new NGO forum is a new anarchy.

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