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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).

Cross-Border Observations from India and South Africa

In early 2013, two young women were brutally gang-raped and murdered in different parts of the world: Jyoti Singh Pandey, a 23-year-old from India and 17-year-old Anene Booysen in South Africa. Both cases received uncharacteristic attention but what were the dynamics and specific factors and circumstances that propelled them into national and international prominence and can unpacking this influence the development of enhanced strategies to tackling endemic violence against women?

“Sexualised Violence in the National Debate: Cross-border observations from India and South Africa” is a joint project between the South Africa and the India offices of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. The project, which commenced in 2013, produced two comparative studies – one on South Africa co-authored by Joy Watson and Vivienne Lalu and the other on India authored by Urvashi Butalia. The studies analyse the political, media and community responses to the rape and murder of the two young girls in the context of perpetuating violence against women in both countries. The studies also assess to what extent the unprecedented attention to these two cases led to any tangible social transformation processes.

What the comparative studies revealed is that although the cases were somewhat similar in nature, the social and political reactions to the rapes and murders of the young girls differed. In India the government’s response to the mass eruptions of social protest was to initially curtail it rather than to respond to what its citizens were calling for. In South Africa, while some marks of social protest were made across the country, it was politicians who took the centre stage. Almost as soon as news of Anene’s death hit the media, politicians descended onto the small town of Bredasdorp, using any opportunity as a forum for party politicking. Despite these initial problematic responses, some positive remedial measures did emerge. Although some concerns remain on the implementation of these measures what the responses to the rape and murders of these young girls proves is that the state can prioritise addressing violence against women particularly when media influence and/or just the right amount of public pressure is placed on it to do so. 

There are however 'no quick-fix solutions' say the authors of the South Africa study, “strategic thought needs to be invested in the prevention of sexual violence. Otherwise, both private and public spaces will continue to be sites of potential danger for women and girls.”

The studies can be downloaded by clicking on the above links. More media articles on this project can be found on the Heinrich Boell Foundation website.

For more information or to request hard copies of the publication contact: Claudia Lopes, Tel: 021 461 6266, Email: claudia.lopes@za.boell.org.

The overall goal of the Integrated Access to Care and Treatment (I ACT) is 'to promote early recruitment and retention of people living with HIV into care and support programmes. I ACT strives to improve the uptake of Pre-ART Care in Health Facilities and HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) opportunities.'

I ACT, Integrated Access to Care and Treatment, supports people living with HIV by providing knowledge and skills through:

  • Facilitated group meetings based on a proven curriculum;
  • Referrals to health facilities, partner organisations and other support groups;
  • Community-based projects for alumni of the programme;
  • Training, education, and support for facilitators.

“I ACT was developed to counter the problem of patients not returning to healthcare facilities for follow up visits post HIV diagnosis, especially when their CD4 count is still high. I ACT focuses on educating newly diagnosed pre-treatment individuals on topics related to their diagnosis; but also on empowering PLHIV to take responsibility and ownership of their condition. I ACT is a strategy similar to traditional support groups, however it is a more structured, finite and curriculum-based approach. I ACT helps people to learn, share and live positively,” said I ACT project manager, Shaun Skidmore.

The I ACT programme has six learning modules which are facilitated in either a closed or open group format. Closed groups are defined as consisting of the same group of people that commit to attending all six I ACT sessions, upon completion of this six session curriculum participants are referred to external support structures, either facility or community based and a new closed group can then be created with new participants.

Open groups act as a marketing method for I ACT and there is no obligation for people to attend these sessions. Facilitators generally do an open presentation in waiting areas on one of the six topical areas that have an impact on people living with HIV and then inform listeners about the I ACT closed groups. In this way referral not only takes place via clinic staff but from waiting rooms as well.
 
The six I ACT topics used during Closed and Open Groups build upon each other, they include:

  • HIV/AIDS, STIs and OIs including TB;
  • Treatment Literacy and Adherence;
  • Acceptance of status;
  • Disclosure;
  • Nutrition and health living principles;
  • Prevention with positives.

Foundation for Professional Development (FPD) is the training partner for I ACT; we provide a five-day I ACT facilitators skills training to people who already have content knowledge of HIV, OIs and TB. The trainees are provided with the skills to facilitate support groups using the structured I ACT model. Post-training where we also provide mentorship to all participants trained on I ACT take place over a three-month period. This is done to assist with support group implementation at facility or community level and to work on sustainability measures.
 
“Presently discussions have begun on the integration of FPD’s community projects, namely Community Based Counselling and Testing (CBCT), Integrated Access to Care and Treatment (I ACT) and Adherence Clubs (AC) that will lead to the improvement of health systems strengthening and provide a comprehensive community package of care that will align to the Integrated Chronic Services Model (ICSM).” concluded Shaun.  

- Foundation for Professional Development, www.foundation.co.za.
 

The Programme Director

The honourable Deputy Minister, Buti Manamela

Chairperson of National Lottery Board, Prof Nevhutanda

Chairperson of SANGONeT, Tebogo Makgatho

Executive Director of SANGONeT, Kenneth Thlaka

Distinguished guest

Ladies and gentlemen
 
It an honour to be afforded an opportunity to speak at such an auspicious occasion and represent my President and my organisation SANGOCO. Our partnership with SANGONeT is a match born of South African conditions of struggle for freedom.

SANGOCO and SANGONeT have engaged in a robust programme of changing the world of civil society engagement with the developmental agenda. It has come to our realisation that empowering civil society in the age of information, requires constructing new ways of thinking and tools in the information, communication and technology (ICT) area. Our resolve is to ensure that information sharing across the sector becomes a living force charged to consolidate our efforts, improve our communication, link us to sides of knowledge, solidify our networks and generally give us access to the world of finance through donors and other international financial institutions.

Tipfuxeni is a Tsonga word meaning wake up and do things for yourself. We believe that generating this indigenous knowledge using global technology would advance the development and outreach of civil society to tackle issues such as poverty, inequality and the scourge of unemployment.

The Tipfuxeni project allows interaction of civil society sector on this platform. It further allows the donor community to align itself to the sector in terms of the goals and achievements envisaged. We will draw from government the developmental agenda as captured in the National Development Plan (NDP), different departmental growth and development strategies, and last but not least Corporate South Africa for their corporate social investment.

We support the idea of creating an open society driven by values of transparency, accountability and democracy. A society in which all are open to opportunity, but more importantly one in which even the least among all will develop sufficiently to desired potential. Our intention and purpose is to bridge the gaps of a divided society constructed to perpetuate poverty and inequality to one where resources are shared for the benefit of all, but of course dialogue is primary, access to knowledge is paramount, resources are key and Tipfuxeni project is the foundation to build on.

In conclusion

SANGOCO and SANGONeT remain resolved that work has to be done by all sectors, government will lead and civil society will complement and hold leaders and itself to account on the transformation project.

Finally, let me commend the National Lotteries Board for supporting this initiative of the civil society organisations.

I Thank you.

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