Empowering Rural People through Networking
The Rural Development Services Network (RDSN), emerged in November 1993 as the result of a collaboration between the offices of the failed Rural Advice Centre and other prominent water and sanitation NGOs.
RDSN is a network organisation with 13 affiliates working in support of the development of rural communities. The network’s main objective is to build its member’s capacity to contribute towards rural poverty eradication and development. It achieves this through networking, campaigning, research and training.
The Face of RDSN
RDSN is headed by Victor Thoka who has worked in the civil society and rural development arena for more than a decade. Thoka has been with the RDSN for the past four years, serving as its Executive Director in the last three.
Thoka also presides as the Chairperson of the National Committee of the Masibambane Civil Society Support Programme, a government initiative aimed at improving water and sanitation service delivery with the assistance of civil society organisations.
Rapid Membership Expansion Fuels Programme Diversification
According to Thoka, RDSN acts as a secretariat office for member organisations. He maintains that the real work is done by affiliates, with the network office mainly driving and coordinating national events.
When the network was established in 1993, it primarily concerned itself with rural water and sanitation issues. One of the network’s most successful campaigns is the Water for All Campaign. This particular campaign was an advocacy campaign by civil society to lobby government to provide ‘free basic water’ to all South Africans. In the campaign, RDSN called for 50 free litres of water for each person per day. Their main argument revolved around the fact that water is the source of life and that without it, survival is impossible.
Nevertheless, the network expanded its programmatic focus in line with a growth in membership. Five new organisations joined the RDSN in 1996. Strengthening its support base further, the year 2002 saw an additional eight new affiliates joining the network. The increase in affiliates resulted in the focus of the network shifting towards broader integrated rural development.
RDSN has evolved into a network of organisations that is concerned with hurdles to the delivery of social services. In its current form, RDSN focuses on programme areas pertaining to gender empowerment, health, the environment, land and agriculture and food security. Thoka asserts that rural development does not exclude issues such as gender and HIV/AIDS.
A Positive Working Relationship with Government
According to Thoka, South Africa’s rural development organisations are challenged by the limited funding priority given to them. This has affected rural organisations negatively. Thoka argues that rural organisations have to increasingly contend with hostile relations between government and civil society.
In response to this situation, RDSN initiates and coordinates political dialogue between local government and civil society organisations. Thoka is of the view that this dialogue will assist both parties to engage each other regarding issues surrounding service delivery.
As a key partner in the government’s Masibambane Water and Sanitation Programme, RDSN has actively contributed to the participation of civil society organisations in the delivery of water and sanitation since 2000.
Through their involvement in the Masibambane Programme, the network assists government in the fight to eradicate poverty. Looking ahead, Thoka anticipates that the relationship between RDSN and government will grow and strengthen.
Two Major Conferences on the 2006 Calendar
RDSN is set to hold two conferences back to back in June of this year. The first conference will focus on the relationship between government and civil society. The aim of this one day conference will be to encourage political dialogue between the government and civil society. RDSN refers to this conference to as the Civil Society Summit.
The second conference is called Best Practice Conference on Water and Sanitation. This particular day will commemorate the work done by civil society and government in the struggle for better and more efficient service delivery. Thoka states that this one day event is aimed at demonstrating what civil society and government can do together.
RDSN is set to revue its membership policy in the near future. Previously, the network was very strict in their selection processes. Thoka, states that this stringent policy has resulted in there being far fewer members affiliated to the network. Going forward, RDSN is looking to relax its membership criteria, thus allowing in more rural development organisations. The policy is set to be finalised sometime this year. A specific date has not yet been set.
By adopting this move, Thoka, hopes that the network will grow in strength and influence. He argues that with more organisations joining the RDSN, the network is sure to affect more rural people in a positive manner.
Current RDSN Members
Amampondo Integrated Rural Development Association (AIRDA)
Bathlabine Rural Development Trust (BRDT)
National Movement of Rural Women (RWM)
Northern Province Agricultural Development Agency (NOPADA)
Pondoland Rural Development Trust (PRDT)
Thuthuka Community Engineering Development
Tswelopelo Rural Development Network
- Badumile Duma, Information Coordinator, SANGONeT
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