Matching funds empower rural residents to solve problems

Tuesday, 27 August, 2002 - 23:00

Editor’s Note:
A strong civil society draws its strength from people who work together
for the bettermen

Editor’s Note:
A strong civil society draws its strength from people who work together
for the betterment of all. The following two articles look at how
this concept is playing out in South Africa as community-based organizations
encourage local giving to meet local needs.
by
Maggie I. Jaruzel

   Agnes Libazi embodies the traditional African spirit
of community. She rises early year-round to work in the village vegetable
garden, kneeling to pull weeds and stooping to check ripening crops. Libazi
smiles proudly after announcing that her vegetables are served in a mid-day
soup for hungry schoolchildren and also sold to struggling families at
her town’s mini-market. The 50-year- old mother of 10 is energized by
the community gardening project that allows her to work alongside a dozen
female friends in rural Swellendam, a picturesque community 2 1/2 hours
west of Cape Town. The women call their volunteer club “Nomsa,” which
means “kindness toward each other” in their mother language of Xhosa.


A bright South African
sun beats on the women’s bent backs and laughter fills the warm morning
air as they speak in Xhosa and Afrikaans. The languages are as interwoven
as the colorful fibers of their long skirts and head wraps. It is here,
in the garden, that they sow seeds of communal concern.

   “We do it for the community and to keep ourselves busy,”
said Libazi through a translator. “We can’t just sit around all day long.
Most of us were born here and grew up here. This is home and we want to
help.”

   In an office suite more than 100 miles from the Swellendam
farming community, Khanyisa Balfour aptly describes the women’s labor of
love and their legacy.

   Umntu ngumntu ngabanye abantu,” she says
in Xhosa, then translates: “‘You’re a person through other people.’ That’s
a way of life for Africans. It’s at the core of our being.”
   Balfour
is communications manager for the Social Change Assistance Trust (SCAT),
one of only a few indigenous grantmaking organizations in South Africa.
The Cape Town-based nonprofit was established in 1985 as an anti-apartheid
initiative to provide human rights assistance for poor, rural, black communities
that were legally excluded from government programs other than those designed
to promote apartheid.

   In 1995, SCAT launched its local Fundraising Incentive
Scheme (FRIS). The innovative plan encourages rural residents to sponsor
fundraising events that generate income to address community needs, said
SCAT Director Annemarie Hendrikz. She said FRIS — partially funded with
a two-year, $300,000 (R2.4 million) Mott Foundation grant — rewards community
fundraising efforts by providing groups with five rands for every one rand
raised. Its goal is to empower rural residents to identify problems and
provide solutions.




There are vast economic differences throughout  South
Africa. Povery is pervasive in the Western Cape community of Philippi...



...in contrast to parts of Swellendam, a quaint   town
about 100 miles away. However, the gap  between rich and poor
is often found in the  same community.

 “We must learn
to respect the cultures and values of rural people,” Hendrikz said. “These
communities definitely do have power. Maybe the people there can’t read
and write, but they have unique knowledge about their communities, and knowledge
is power.” In 2000, SCAT paid R918,734 ($114,841) to local organizations
for 141 FRIS events they hosted. In the past five years, fundraisers have
included disco nights, sports tournaments, chorale competitions, public
video viewings and other activities. Events raise money by charging a small
entrance fee and selling refreshments. Communities also raise funds by selling
raffle tickets, home-baked goods and secondhand items.

   Many SCAT staff and volunteers say braai en slaai
(traditional barbecues) are the most popular and surest moneymakers. While
organizers said they require an enormous amount of effort to plan and host,
braais are the quickest way to ignite a cross-section of community
involvement.
   “They
divide up the tasks and pull from their resources by saying, ‘Who’s good
at what?’ and then they work together,” Balfour said. “Rural people are
used to planning and dividing up tasks for burials, weddings and other occasions.
But the profit-making, well now, that was a different concept.”

   Ideas flourished after the difference between simply hosting
a well-attended event and sponsoring one that reaped financial rewards was
explained. A typical Swellendam braai makes a profit of R1,000 ($125),
which garners an additional R5,000 ($625) match from the SCAT office. In
2000, the Swellendam Advice and Development Centre received R84,456 ($10,557)
for its 19 fundraisers, making it SCAT’s most successful participant.

   In 2000, almost 60 percent of SCAT’s R10.8 million ($1.3
million) annual budget provided core funding for advice offices in four
of the nation’s nine provinces, including the Western Cape where Swellendam
is located.

Advice offices are
sometimes the only places with electricity and telephones in the country’s
most remote areas. They provide free paralegal and mediation services for
residents with pension problems, employment disputes and housing concerns.
Volunteers and paid employees, such as Swellendam’s paralegal Rachel Windvogel,
strive to improve living conditions for the overall community while serving
40 to 50 walk-in clients each weekday.

   “In the beginning, the white people thought the advice
office was only there for the black people,” Windvogel said. “But we’re
now building good relationships with employers.”

   In a nation where politics and race dominate conversations
and transactions, she said the advice office’s major challenge was to be
seen as nonpartisan and non-racist. After seven years of operation, there
are signs of success.
   Nicklaas
Tidor, 45, is a frequent visitor to the advice office, and speaks highly
of the center. He called the staff “fair,” even though disputes haven’t
always been resolved in his favor. When he petitioned the office to force
his employer to pay medical expenses after his arm was severely burned in
an accident unrelated to work, the advice office sided with the employer.
That action, plus other similar rulings, raised the advice office’s credibility
in the eyes of farm owners, who are predominantly white.

   The office has gained credibility with other local citizens,
too. Several people filed complaints that a nearby automotive repair garage
was charging too much for its services, prompting advice office staff to
advocate successfully on their behalf for more reasonable fees.

   In
addition to mediation, some of the 58 advice offices that SCAT supports
educate residents by hosting public meetings for election candidates, providing
literacy classes for farm workers, and offering after-hour enrichment classes
for children and adults at the local primary school. Advice offices also
serve as coordinating centers for communitywide activities, FRIS fundraisers
and projects such as the Nomsa garden.

   Economic conditions in Swellendam are better than in most
SCAT-supported communities. Although the area is rural and poor, many Swellendam
houses have access to water, electricity and sewage facilities, while other
communities do not. There is also a section of paved streets lined with
moderate- to high-priced homes.

   Unlike most rural communities, Swellendam’s main street
is peppered with “bed and breakfast” signs to entice tourists to explore
the quaint country atmosphere and architecture from the early 1800s. In
one way, Swellendam and its neighboring township, Railton, are typical of
rural South Africa. Despite the demise of the apartheid system, rural white
towns still stand in stark contrast to the poor black townships that surround
them.
   A
brisk walk from Swellendam, Railton is home to most Nomsa gardening club
members. The township contains row after row of shanties made of wood or
corrugated tin, situated on cramped plots of barren red earth. But patches
of pastels now dot the horizon following the government’s Reconstruction
and Development Program (RDP) funding for construction of many “smartie”
houses, structures nicknamed after a multi-colored candy treat.

   Still, life is difficult. Among the Railton residents
holding a scarce local job, almost all are farm workers earning an average
of R100 ($12.50) weekly for a family of four or five. These conditions make
the advice office’s services all the more valuable. Staff estimates that
six of 10 local residents have benefited in some way from the center’s work.

   “There’s very much the sense of sharing here,” said Linda
Diedericks, SCAT’s Swellendam advice office field worker. “The people know
the FRIS money is not coming to them personally, but to them as a community.
They are glad to work together to improve it.”

Swellendam and other
advice offices have used FRIS funds to buy paper, pencils, books and photocopiers,
as well as to increase meager staff salaries. The money also pays transportation
fees for those living in remote villages, as well as new program start-up
costs. It subsidizes ongoing projects such as crèches (child-care centers)
and literacy programs.

   In addition to the funds raised, Hendrikz said, FRIS has
enriched and empowered rural South Africans by enabling them to gain practical
skills in planning, budgeting, bookkeeping and promotions. The program also
nurtures a local sense of ownership and accountability for the advice offices.
And it builds upon residents’ sense of community, which Hendrikz said was
strengthened in the past through their opposition to apartheid.


Staff and volunteers from the Swellendam Advice  and
Development Centre are proud of their  community garden.

   “Historically,
solidarity grew out of adversity,” she said. “The people all shared such
a huge powerful enemy that it built a sort of post-disaster cohesion.” While
the FRIS program has been tremendously successful, it has had its share
of challenges. Hendrikz said most problems revolve around insufficient or
improper record-keeping. Fortunately, SCAT’s monitoring system minimizes
these, she said.

   SCAT was instrumental in establishing many advice offices,
which have continued to rely solely upon the agency for essentials such
as rent and salaries. SCAT’s income has diversified since it began — when
all funds came from the Church of Norway. Although the bulk of its support
still comes from Norwegian Church Aid, other funders now include Cordaid,
DanChurchAid, Diakonia, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID), and the Mott Foundation, which has provided $600,000
(R4.8 million) to date.

   In a 1998 report commissioned by the Church of Norway,
SCAT was applauded for successfully doing what many government programs
often fail to do: disbursing small sums of money to needy rural areas in
a rapid and effective manner.
   Hendrikz
hopes the proven track record qualifies SCAT to be an intermediary agency
that could receive government money and in turn distribute it for rural
programs such as poverty alleviation; youth initiatives; and HIV/AIDS awareness,
prevention and treatment. (Potential sources of funding include the National
Development Agency, the national lottery and the Department of Social Development’s
poverty alleviation fund.)

   The possibility of expanding youth projects especially
excites Railton residents Clifford Thompson and Peter Matthysen. They jointly
founded the Swellendam advice office after they saw a need for local mediation
and information services following the first democratic election in 1994.
Since then, they have assembled a diverse nine-person advisory board, hired
staff and recruited volunteers.

   Two regular volunteers are Jerome Witbooi, 21, and Deidre
Solomon, 17. As active members of the advice office’s youth team, they assist
with FRIS fundraisers and perform informational skits to schoolchildren
on topics such as HIV/AIDS and drug abuse.

   “I
think it’s my duty to do something like this for kids,” Witbooi said. “When
I was a young boy, maybe 15 or 16, there was no one to steer me away from
the path of drugs. I was all on my own. My parents were probably too afraid
to talk about it. I wish there had been someone there for me. Now I want
to be there for these kids. Nobody likes to feel like they’re all alone.”

   While Nomsa garden club members keep their sense of community
alive by providing fresh produce for poor neighbors, the youth do the same
thing by sharing their time and experiences with peers.

   SCAT said there are resources and dedicated volunteers
in rural communities throughout the country like those in the Swellendam/Railton
area, and NGOs are increasingly tapping them to help meet local needs.

   “The bottom line is that SCAT works to build rural communities
by finding the pulse and using that to help empower the people,” Hendrikz
said. “SCAT supports human beings who have been marginalized by helping
them reconstruct themselves and their communities.”


SCAT provides support for rural projects that encourage
participation by unemployed,  young adults.

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