Rapid urbanisation is creating serious social and economic problems throughout the developing world. This paper looks at urbanisation in Johannesburg, South Africa. Urbanisation has affected civil society in South Africa dramatically. South African NGOs, once recognised internationally as a key element of civil society in the fight against apartheid, have been forced to re-invent themselves in order to justify their continued funding. Combating urban poverty is a complex and time-consuming task that has attracted the attention of governments, large donor agencies and small local NGOs alike. Surprisingly, given these circumstances, the experience and abilities of South African NGOs has yet to be rigorously assessed. This study aims to redress some of these deficiencies, by addressing key questions concerning the roles, relationships and internal organisation of urban NGOs in Johannesburg.