Several national and international donors have joined forces to inspire and enable bold new initiatives with the potential to transform early learning access and quality in South Africa. Bold ideas for early learning are invited from all sectors and may include anything from new delivery models or smarter financing mechanisms to innovation in the use of technology for training, early learning activities or parent interaction.
The Innovation Edge is part of a R90 million programme called Ilifa Labantwana. It was launched through a multi-donor consortium including the Ilifa funding partners - DG Murray Trust, the FirstRand Foundation, ELMA Foundation, UBS Optimus Foundation - and the Omidyar Network.
“The Innovation Edge will enable Ilifa to explore new frontiers in early learning that can then be incorporated into bigger programmes” says Sherri Le Mottee, programme leader of Ilifa Labantwana.
The focus of the Innovation Edge is on children from birth to six years living in marginalised communities. “Less than a quarter of preschool children in South Africa have the benefit of quality early learning programmes”, says Sonja Giese, founding director of the Innovation Edge. “The prospect of exposing every child to creative learning experiences in their first few years of life is a major opportunity to reshape educational outcomes in South Africa.”
The fund builds on growing global interest in early childhood development as scientific findings have converged on its importance for education, economic productivity and social stability.  “The Edge provides a platform to test the feasibility and effectiveness of innovations that will help to realise the enormous potential of South Africa’s young children", says Giese.  “We want to bring new ways of thinking to early learning by creating opportunities for people with diverse skills and experience to join the call to action.”
For more information or to submit an idea for consideration, refer to Alternatively, email:


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Judge Willie Seriti has been given another five months in which to finish investigating bribery, corruption and other acts of impropriety which might have happened during the acquisition of prime mission equipment for two arms of the South African National Defence Force in 1999.

President Jacob Zuma said in a statement released last Friday, 31 October 2014 that, “The term of the Commission of Inquiry into allegations of fraud, corruption, impropriety or irregularity in the strategic defence procurement package has been extended until April 30, 2015.”

The statement also points out that the commission was established in November 2011 and its term was “recently extended to November 30, 2014”.

The commission was originally given 12 months to finish its investigations and present a report to Zuma six months after its work was finished. In November last year Zuma gave the commission another 12 months and now he has added a further five to its mandate.

The commission is still bound to submit its report within six months of wrapping up.

Witnesses treated unfairly by commission

According to the Arms Procurement Commission website, public hearings will “commence on November 10. The witness to take the stand is Shamin ‘Chippy’ Shaik, followed by Admiral Alan Green and Masizakhe Zimela on 12 November.”

The Seriti Commission was thrown into disarray last month after Hennie van Vuuren, one of three witnesses who withdrew from the commission, took to the stand and said: “I respectfully decline to testify.”

Witnesses Andrew Feinstein and Paul Holden also withdrew from the commission and were re-subpoenaed. Reports indicate they will not be appearing before the commission as they reside outside South Africa and Holden maintains his subpoena never arrived. Feinstein, through his lawyer, Advocate Geoff Budlender, told the commission it did not have international jurisdiction.

Van Vuuren issued a statement through Lawyers for Human Rights to explain his reasons for keeping mum on the Seriti Commission witness stand. These are being refused access to evidence; being refused the opportunity to provide the commission with “crucial” documentary evidence; not being allowed to speak to documents witnesses have not written, and the loss of public trust in the commission and its work.

“There is evidence to suggest the commission is following a second agenda, namely, to discredit critical witnesses and find in favour of the State and arms corporations’ version of events.

“Since January 2013 at least four senior staff have resigned in protest at the commission’s conduct. In August 2014, two senior evidence leaders resigned from the commission, saying its approach ‘nullifies the very purpose for which the commission was set up’. The commission has called only two people to testify, of the dozens who have been directly implicated in impropriety. Most recently almost 40 civil society organisations have called for the commission to be disbanded.”

“If we’re committed to stopping corruption in SA [South Africa], our institutions have to be seen to be working. When they fail us, it’s our responsibility to challenge these institutions," Van Vuuren told Corruption Watch last month. “I am not going to give legitimacy to a process that is extremely flawed.”

Commission spokesman William Baloyi noted that it is a criminal offence for a subpoenaed witness to refuse to testify and a prison term with an option of a fine could be imposed but it is not clear what, if any, punishment van Vuuren could face.

Commissioners will do their utmost to fulfil mandate

Seriti told defenceWeb in September the commission had done “fairly well and overcome whatever problems it encountered”, including resignations. “It has not even been necessary to replace the departed employees. I am confident we will complete our mandate expeditiously and present a thorough report to the president come next year. The commissioners are fully aware of the heavy responsibility resting on their shoulders in this regard and are determined to do their utmost to carry out their mandate,” Seriti said.

“The commission has amassed evidence whose record runs into thousands of typed pages, having heard over 40 witnesses. The resignations have certainly not impeded its work as we now have a leaner, meaner and more efficient staff complement.”

Seriti also said the “the negative ranting of some so-called arms deal experts” had been a challenge. Van Vuuren told Corruption Watch that the performance of some arms deal critics, notably Crawford-Browne, had not advanced the investigation much as Crawford-Browne had “gone on a tangent and focused on gossip” instead of the “evidence”. Crawford-Browne testified there were allegations that Chris Hani’s assassination came before he planned to expose then defence Minister Joe Modise’s involvement in, and corruption relating to, the arms deal and that Hani’s killer was employed by BAE Systems.

Regardless of Crawford-Browne’s testimony, Van Vuuren said arms deal critics were not the ones on trial and that the commission should focus on investigating the arms companies, former Pesident Thabo Mbeki, cabinet ministers and others involved in the deal that saw the acquisition of 26 Gripen jet fighters, 24 Hawk lead-in fighter trainers, 30 Agusta A109 light utility helicopters, four Super Lynx maritime helicopters, four Valour Class frigates and three Type 209 Heroine Class submarines.

One of the more interesting witnesses scheduled to appear this year is Fana Hlongwane, advisor to former (now deceased) defence minister, Joe Modise. BAE Systems in 2011 admitted to irregularly using a South African joint venture with Saab, which manufactures the Gripen, to channel R24 million to a ‘South African consultant’ - Hlongwane. As a result, BAE agreed to pay a record US$79 million (R550-million) fine.

BAE and Hlongwane have not denied the fact of the payments, but have denied that they were bribes.

  • This article first appeared on the Corruption Watch website. 

It is easy, with all the brouhaha taking place in Parliament recently - the expulsion of members of the Economic Freedom Fighters for ‘unparliamentary’ behaviour; their failure to respect the office of the Speaker; the presence of riot police in the parliamentary precinct; the vilification of the Public Protector by some members of parliament (MPs); and the withdrawal of opposition parties from the Ad-hoc Committee on Nkandla – to forget that much of the work of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces takes place in the Portfolio Committees and the Select Committees respectively. Last week saw these Committees being briefed by the Auditor-General and considering the Annual Reports of the various government departments. A glance at one of these meetings provides an encouraging example of how Parliament ought to, and quite often does, work.
The Portfolio Committee on Social Development was briefed by the Auditor-General on the audit findings of the Annual Report of the Department of Social Development (DSD) and its entities for 2013/14 financial year. This was followed by a briefing by the DSD for 2013/14, as well as consideration of the Annual Report of the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) for 2013/14 financial year. The reports had been presented to Parliament on 30 September 2014, and it was clear from the participation of the members of the Committee that they had been studied.
The Auditor-General focused on outcomes and oversight. No significant findings were made that compromised the audit, which was regarded as clean. However, problems were identified in the supply chain which could be addressed by better use of information technology. SASSA was found to have several vacant posts, which needed to be filled. The various relief funds were also audited.
The input by the Auditor-General was followed by a presentation from Social Development Minister, Bathabile Dlamini, dealing with the substance of the reports. She noted that there had been a decline in poverty due to the nutrition programmes run by DSD, with a particular focus on the poorest wards in the country. Other achievements highlighted were a call centre for victims of gender-based violence; more bursaries for social work students; an increase in the number of babies adopted; the roll-out of the White Paper on the Family; and the institution of strategies to support fatherhood. It was also reported that the Department had met its targets regarding HIV services and substance abuse intervention programmes.
In all the Department had achieved 69 percent of its targets, but there remain many challenges: the underspending of monies allocated to social assistance; lack of compliance by non-governmental organisations with legal provisions which would enable them to receive funding; youth programmes and services performing poorly; and the Older Person’s Register not functioning properly.
The sustained improvement in the Department’s performance is most heartening as is their sensitivity to the gaps in performance. The commitment of the Minister to address these challenges and her engagement with her staff is impressive. As one MP commented, the presentations of both the Auditor-General and the Department ‘were no cut and paste job’!
But this portfolio committee meeting was about much more than a simple list of achievements and problem areas. It was about ministerial accountability; parliamentary oversight; and independent assessment of a state entity’s fiduciary performance. At the meeting two of the three arms of government - legislature and executive - and a constitutional institution (the Auditor-General), came together in proper relation to each other, each exercising its own duty vis a vis the other and according to the principles of the separation of powers and of constitutional government in general. That is how it should be, and indeed how it is, more often than many people realise. Sadly, media coverage tends to reflect the superficial and immature scenes of what happens in the House; behind them, though, the real business of Parliament continues; and therein lies much hope.

"Civil society must change the colonial paradigm within which civil society operates in South Africa. These formations take an oppositional posture. These institutions masquerade as representatives of the people. The lines get blurred between them and the parliamentary opposition”.

These words, spoken by a senior government official on the eve of the twenty year anniversary of South Africa’s democracy, provide an occasion for pause to consider the role that civil society organisations are, and should be, playing in a democratic society such as ours. At the dawn of democracy, civil society’s role in supporting the entrenchment of democratic norms in government and society was welcomed with open arms by the new government leaders that were only recently in the trenches with civil society to defeat apartheid. It was not unheard of, for example, that a committee in parliament would seek assistance from civil society groups to provide drafts on various aspects of proposed legislation. This was certainly the case in 1999 when the Justice Committee commissioned the Open Democracy Campaign Group, the precursor to the Open Democracy Advice Centre, to draft sections of the Protected Disclosures Bill, before it became the Protected Disclosures Act, South Africa’s whistleblower protection law.
However, as society evolved and government structures and systems matured, so did the relationship between government and civil society begin to change. Yet, another factor contributing to this changing of the relationship is the flight of international aid from civil society to the state, which at times triggered a review of the terms of reference and the relevance of the work of civil society organisations. The impact was greatest felt on the governance and human rights sector of civil society. A number of organisations in this sector either floundered or had to review their strategies on the advancement of human rights and good governance. Some newer ones, much smaller and with a niche focus soon emerged. The Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC) is part of this group. Since its inception in 2000, ODAC was one of a handful of organisations championing transparency and right-to-know laws as critical tools for ensuring good governance. It was the only entity, within and outside structures of the state, working to advance better protection of people that blew the whistle on corruption.
The governance and human rights sector of civil society remains a difficult sector to work in because of the perception that government officials sometimes hold of organisations within this sector, as vividly demonstrated by the quotation above, but also because of limited resources available to this sector to carry out its work in support of democracy and advancement of human rights. As indicated above, international aid has migrated from the sector and South African private philanthropy is more comfortable with supporting 'non-controversial' issues such as sports, arts, culture and education than support projects that are seen to be in the political realm such as governance and human rights, with the obvious exception of secretive private funding of political parties.
In 2013 R7.8 billion was spent by corporate South Africa on corporate social investment (CSI) and R3.5 billion of this was allocated to nonprofit organisations. This amount was allocated mostly to the six most supported sectors which are, by order of the level of support; education, health, children, development, environment, and economic development. Democracy and governance does not make it to the statistical table. A recent demonstration of this happened in 2011 after the Protection of State Information Bill had been tabled in parliament by the minister of state security a year before. The chairperson of one of the biggest retailers in South Africa made what was an unsual remark by a South African corporate leader, by criticising the Bill. In a country where business does not make bold to criticise government openly, this was received with surprise and encouragement. However, when the retail group was approached to support civil society formations in their fight against the more draconian provisions of the Bill, the group responded by saying they had allocated all their CSI investment to sports programmes.
Despite these challenges, the democracy, governance and human rights sector of civil society has continued to be active in ensuring adherence to our constitutional principles of openness, accountability, respect for human rights and the rule of law. While there used to be only ODAC working for better protection for whistleblowers, now there is CorruptionWatch building up on that work and bringing issues of the impact of corruption closer to the public imangination. While ODAC and a few others created awareness about the importance of access to information laws in enforcing honest delivery of public services, now you have the Right2Know Campaign building on this work and making the Promotion of Access to Information Act meaningful to people in Delft, Gugulethu, Sebokeng and many other places far away from the hallways of parliament and the Union Buildings.
After 20 years after democracy, civil society still has a role to play in ensuring that the democratic divident acrues to all and not just the the privileged and politically connected. Civil society has to, and can, continue to work towards strengthening our democratic order. Shelagh Gastraw of Inyathelo South African Institute for Social Advancement puts it very aptly when she says: “civil society needs to reclaim its space and entrench those values that contribute to a truly free and fair society that is characterised by a respect for human rights, inclusivity, consultation, transparency and accountability.” There is still much work to do. Civil society is up to the task of making its own contribution towards securing the democratic gains of the last twenty years. A more inclusive approach by government leaders and an investment into our democratic order by business will ensure that this work gets done.
 - Mukelani Dimba is the executive director of the Open Democracy Advice Center (ODAC).


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