Disparities in Non-Profit Organizations’ Right to Funding and Sustenance in South Africa

Friday, 6 March, 2020 - 14:30

The right of NGOs to access funding is as valid as the right of individuals to benefit from the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and all NGOs should be free to solicit, obtain and use resources as they see fit, except confirmation of any suspected malpractice or criminal activity. Because NGOs have both rights and responsibilities, and the exercise of freedom of association entails respect for the basic rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the pursuit of such activities by peaceful means.  The South African Civil Society has, in recent years, been forced to struggle for resources due to disregard for the worth their existence bring towards development of poor societies they serve. And the disparities in protection of most community-based organization show in the way some politicians and the media speculate and generalize as to mismanagement and corrupt handling and mismanagement of funding received by NGOs. It is apparent that some sectors of our society perceive black-managed NGOs as not deserving to receive equal funding as the white-managed NGOs.
 
Looking at this picture through “philosophic” glasses: Mankind is divided into rich and poor, into property owners and lenders. And to abstract oneself from this fundamental division, and from the antagonism between poor and rich means abstracting oneself from fundamental facts. There’s always been disparities in the societies in the history of mankind.  These disparities led to develop charity between rich and poor. This “help” from rich to poor when taken to an international scale, concerns the assistance given by rich countries to poor ones. The concept of development aid goes back to the colonial era at the turn of the twentieth century, in particular to the British policy of colonial development that emerged during that period. The beginning of modern development aid is rooted in the context of Post-World War II and the Cold War.
 
The donor’s audits are based on their personal interests which are not necessarily the same as the interests of the NGO. NGOs find accessing donors as challenging as dealing with their funding conditions. They perceive that certain cartels of individuals and NGOs control access to donor funds. They have limited resource mobilization skills and are often not looking for funds that are available locally, preferring to wait for international donors to approach them. There is a high dependency for donors and a tendency to shift interventions to match donor priorities. There is a lack of financial, project and organizational sustainability.
 
We, therefore, cannot lay back and allow civil society to be dictated to by international donors as well as corporate funders that have hidden agendas. Which is why the government agencies should be playing a key role in supporting our CSOs which are based in communities and understand the daily needs of our society. We shall always bear in mind that activities of NGOs are aligned to developmental goals of our country. Thus partnership with the state is necessary in speeding up the reach of those goals.
 
We need to begin to acknowledge that the capacity of NGOs to obtain funds obviously pre-supposes that they exist, and therefore that freedom of association is respected. An overview of the state of the associative sector shows, however, that this right is violated in a flagrant manner in South Africa. Whether the denial of the right of association stems from a more oblique approach such as the slow processing of funding application, delays and inconsistency in tranche payments, and overly bureaucratic procedures.  The outcome is almost always the same: a violation of the right to access funding.
 
Consequently, any analysis of the multifaceted restrictions that impede access to funding and the formulation of effective responses should necessarily take into account constraints affecting freedom of association.
 
On Thursday, a lobby network of NGOs marched to the Department of Trade and Industry to present a memorandum of demands containing, among other, that the minister does not cave under pressure by some liberal politician and journalist demanding dismissal of the board of the National Lotteries Commission and that the commission be put under Administration.  This pressure to the minister is based on allegations of corruption and mismanagement by some NPOs. The memorandum to the minister cites that, should the board of the commission be dismissed and the commission be under administration, the following is inevitable:

  • Operations of the commission are bound to be disrupted, if not suspended;
  • Beneficiaries of the commission’s funding being negatively affected through lack of funding, thus disruptions in civil society’s developmental activities; in retrospect, levels of poverty increasing with needed services not delivered; and
  • NGOs and NPOs workers eventually go without sustenance for ground work so desperately needed by the poor and marginalized communities.

These are some actions driven by monopolistic and selfish tendencies of those who seem to think that only certain race groups are deserving to handle huge chunks of funds than others. Access to funds and resources is essential for NGOs managed by any race group, and is an integral component of the right to freedom of association. Without funding, NGOs obviously cannot effectively engage in the defence and promotion of human rights. Financial support to NGOs: a primary responsibility of the government the adoption of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the increasing focus on obstacles faced by NGOs in their work to promote and protect fundamental freedoms.
 
Article 13 of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders must therefore be read in conjunction with Article 12.2 of the said Declaration, which stipulates the following: “State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against [...] arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”

In light of the more general law on freedom of association. Governments, therefore, have a double obligation: on the one hand, the negative obligation to refrain from interference in access to funding, and on the other hand, the positive obligation to establish a legal and administrative framework as well as a practice that facilitate access to and the use of such funding by NGOs. More generally, governments are also reminded of the importance of non-discriminatory support for institutions and organisations active in the promotion and protection of human rights.

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