NGOs in South Africa - We Deserve Better

Friday, August 31, 2012 - 09:54
In the past few weeks the role of NGOs in South Africa received much attention. Various events and initiatives focussed on the funding challenges facing the sector, the need for improved governance, the relationship with government, the involvement of civil society in deepening our democracy, and the broader role and relevance of the sector in relation to various challenges facing South Africa.

Key examples in this regard include "People’s Power, People’s Parliament: A Civil Society Conference on South Africa’s Legislatures" which was held from 13-15 August 2012 in Cape Town, the launch of the "Voluntary Code of Governance and Values for Nonprofits in South Africa", the release of a report on “Critical Perspectives on the Sustainability of the South African Civil Society Sector”, and the National NPO Summit that was hosted by the National Department of Social Development from 15-17 August 2012 in Johannesburg.

It is no secret that many NGOs are confronted with serious financial and capacity challenges. Many have already closed down or had to scale back their activities. At the same time, South Africa is faced with overwhelming development challenges – education, health, poverty, etc. Increasingly, government departments and agencies are incapable of responding to these challenges – lack of capacity and leadership, corruption, etc., resulting in slow or no service delivery, and an alarming increase in social unrest in many parts of the country.

Finding solutions to these challenges will require the unique contributions of all development stakeholders throughout the country, driven by a common vision as captured in the National Development Plan 2030.

However, what is of great concern is the lack of meaningful support by government and others for the work of NGOs, and the conflicting views of people in government about the role of NGOs in South Africa.

Given the size of the NGO sector, and the broad scope of NGOs’ services and activities, it is a common fact that NGOs more often than not are the ones that fill the “delivery gap” in our society. Where else can people turn to for assistance and support regarding basic social needs? But if NGOs continue to close their doors or serve less people because of funding constraints, what will be the long-term consequences for many South Africans? What will happen to abused women in Cape Town if Rape Crisis closes down or why are organisations such as Project Literacy not getting more support given the adult basic education challenges facing millions of adult South Africans? Furthermore, what will happen to advocacy work and keeping government accountable if NGOs such as Treatment Action Campaign, Section 27 or the Right2Know Campaign don’t secure enough external support for their work? Whose interest will it serve if any of these organisations disappear from the scene?

The bottom-line is – why are NGOs not receiving more support and recognition for the role they play in South Africa?

President Zuma made a number of very encouraging remarks about NGOs at the recent NPO Summit. Media headlines in this regard included “Zuma unhappy over lack of financial support for NGO's”, “President Zuma praises non-profit orgs for sterling work”, and “NPOs remain indispensable partner for government: Zuma”. He even stated that the “doors and windows” of government must be permanently open for NGOs given their role in support of the poor in society.

But these comments are not consistent with the experiences of many NGOs when dealing with government departments and agencies. Even those agencies mentioned in the President’s speech – the National Lotteries Board and National Development Agency – have a problematic history and track record in terms of their relationship with NGOs. Recent comments by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande that some NGOs are part of an "ideological third force" are also not helpful in strengthening cooperation between NGOs and government.

So, what happens next? How do we ensure that the role of NGOs is properly acknowledged and supported in future? Finding answers to these questions are not simple, but also not impossible.

The recent focus on the NGO sector as highlighted above is definitely encouraging. It is in everyone’s interest if we know more about the internal and external challenges facing the sector, if the sector takes more responsibility for its governance practices, if more issues about the sector are discussed in national fora such as the NPO Summit and if the President of the country repeats his recent comments about NGOs on a regular basis.

But more needs to be done. NGOs have a critical role to play in this regard through the relevance and impact of their work. But government – on all three tiers and through its associated agencies – has an obligation to utilise the skills and experience of NGOs in confronting the development challenges facing our country, while also respecting the critical role of NGOs and broader civil society in deepening our democracy.

If government fails to act accordingly, the President’s comments will be seen as more empty promises, development efforts will be further delayed, and more people will be frustrated with the lack of service delivery.

Sadly, more NGOs will also close down.


True that. And with me, young as I am I feel pity for our youth that is sinking to rise no more. I am very passionate and strongly self motivated and my ambition is to develop rural areas, I was raised in a rural area in Mankweng Limpopo,i know how it felt in my High school days when there was lack of service delivery, we will debate about it but there was never direction for us, and even the generation after me still seem to experience such. and this leads to migration and abundance of rural areas. I want to bring change but where do I start.
Im ngo,i have a homwrk school,i deal wth kids frm underpriviledge families,i would like to help them wth food,uniforms and their school homewrk,plz help me to raise funds as i dnt knw whr to strt
Greeting my name is Kesia I read about the no and it got my attention also following the interview of Maglo Nguka on CNN was just very touching and made me want to be involve as a women growing up in this tough world of where women are not protected and educated as they should be and they right being neglected. I myself coming from the DRC where women are not considerate I feel the need of helping my African women. How can join the no and be involve in empowering women and this will also empower myself as a women. Thank you
Greetings! Am a member of Bokamoso Information Center and would like to assist... Please do link me on my email!
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Hi, I am Subash and a Performance Auditor based at UBAC. What we try to do is review contemporary approaches on how NGO's operate and report back to relevant stakeholders. What we attempt to offer is a report of examples and experiences to date with specific findings to non-profit organizations as to the reason why and how organizations have undertaken performance audit measures, what have been the changes in overall governance, funding, limited resources, multi-stakeholders, complexity, size and diversity. We aim to show how the issues facing many NGO's today are somewhat similar to the corporate sector and how we have streamlined the approach. That what is needed is an organizational approach to understanding and developing a social performance benchmark across the organization. It is only an assessment of the Performance criteria can one achieve the full benefits of proper governance and reporting. Funders are also key players in assessing the performance report on which to base future funding requirements. For your NGO requirements, please do hesitate to contact us @subashs
Annunzietta My name is Razia Diedricks and I am currently a Masters student in Development Studies at Wits University. Your comments drew my attention since the title of my research is Beneficiaries as Stakeholders in CSI in South Africa, looking at the relationship between corporates and NGO's from the perspective of NGO's. The research is in it's early phases but I believe that understanding the relationship, power dynamics, education and communication between the two stakeholders are key. I am paying particular attention to the perceptions, expectations and experiences of NGO's when dealing with CSI practitioners. I'd be happy to share my findings with you but also grateful to anybody willing to participate in the research as well as to share any relevant resources or references they may have. Regards
I agree , being a young fundraiser as well , its really a useful skill within the sector and out ... if we look into the American voting campaigns , fundraisers are featured and valued for their abilities to advocate and request support. Like the comment Nicole ... Fundraising is challenging but the kick of a sucess outways the challenges
Please let me introduce my self, I am Annunzietta Moutembo and I am engaged in sustainable development work. My exposure to CSI funding, the NGO field and community development projects has led me to explore the following over the recent months. I believe that there are three very important focus points that needs to be addressed if we in South Africa want to reach our desired goals of sustainable development. The first being the bridge, communication and language between CSI and the NGOs. Many Corporate Social Investors do not understand the fundamentals of community development, let alone sustainable development. This has led to a flow of funds that do not reach the desired outcomes. The second focus point is that many NGOs are under skilled in their internal operations and this stems from a lack of funds for administrative running costs, thereby semi-skilled staff are employed. Some NGOs really battle to keep up with professional standards and quality work due to this factor. In this regard, NGOs need to be able to have a platform whereby they are able to empower their staff on a minimal staff development financial investment. The funds for this empowerment can be accessed through the skills development levy. The third focus point is that NGOs need to be empowered on project pre - funding assessments, project selection criteria, project implementation, evaluations, etc. Once again this process is vital to ensure CSI funding is being utilised correctly to reach the desired outcome and that sustainability is reached within community projects. I believe the above three focus points should form part of a holistic development approach for Government, CSI, NGOs and for the communities. I will be most pleased to further this discussion with the relevant persons. Kind regards
Please get in contact with me let us explore if there exist common ground for cooperation, NGO services you can assist and we can also. Thank You