• CAFSA’s Response to ‘Country’s NGOs in Crisis’ Blog on NGO Pulse

    Everyone who is at all interested in the well-being of the South African non-governmental organisation (NGO) sector is aware that the past few years have been challenging. These difficulties are well documented and include gradual withdrawal of international funding, the effects of the global economic recession, leadership and skills flight into business and government - all this compounded by ineffective functioning of state-related institutions whose legislated responsibility is to enable the sector.  Given these circumstances a number of restorative initiatives have emerged, spearheaded by intermediary or support organisations such as Greater Good, GivenGain, Inyathelo and CAF Southern Africa. For example, two ‘collaboration forums’ have been established, one in Cape Town and the other in Johannesburg, to investigate the actual situation regarding funding for NGOs, to provide support for organisations in meeting statutory registration and tax requirements, and to provide access to thought leaders whose advice can help strengthen struggling organisations.  The above-mentioned organisations are also among those providing practical capacity building and management development programmes, undertaking policy research and advocating for a more conducive funding milieu, and for improvements in the regulatory environment governing the development sector.
    Given this growing wave of sector solidarity it was therefore disappointing to read the article published recently on NGO Pulse, (issued by MACS media on behalf of the Orion Organisation and the Cape Town Society for the Blind). In the article, Lizelle van Wyk, chief executive of Cape Town Society for the Blind is quoted making a number of sweeping statements about South Africa’s NGO sector. These statements portray an undifferentiated and negative view of the sector, this without providing even one piece of substantiating evidence.  It is unclear to me what the point of publishing such a potentially damaging set of assertions can be – and why the two originating organisations had to issue these via a private communications company. Given that CAF Southern Africa’s ultimate aim is to contribute towards the strength and legitimacy of the NGO sector we have decided to provide a more balanced view of the current situation. 
    The article in question opens with the statement that ‘Some 30 percent (36 000) of the country’s 122 000 registered NGOs had to close down in 2013 due to growing financial shortages, huge pressure on fundraising as well as non-compliance with legal requirements’. We would be interested to hear the source of these statistics, as to our knowledge, due to a number of factors including backlogs in the registration process, introduction of new technology and associated teething problems; together with factors within the sector itself such as misunderstandings of the registration process, gaps in annual reporting, etc, no one knows with absolute certainty the number of registered NGOs, let alone how many ‘had to close down’. However, during a public presentation made on 30 May 2014, the Director of the Department of Social Development’s (DSD) NPO Directorate himself stated that there were then 121 897 organisations registered.  If the figures quoted in the article which I am countering were correct, there would have been only 86 000 organisations left on the register at this time.
    Certainly a number of organisations have been forced to close or radically downsize, but to our knowledge there is no data on the quantum of this, and if there are please can MACS Media share the source?  Ms van Wyk also castigates the 36 000 organisations for closing down.  She says that these (alleged) closures are a ‘waste of government funds’, given that ‘… government subsidises NGOs to the tune of 31 billion annually’. The reality is not that ‘government subsidises NGOs’, but rather pays them, all too often at rates far below that paid to public sector employees, to provide critical services to poor and marginalised communities, services that in an effective administration government itself would be providing. A significant contributing factor to the closure or severe cutbacks in services by many NGOs is the ongoing poor functioning of government-related institutions such as the Lotteries, the National Development Agency and some of the DSD's offices.   
    I do not propose to interrogate the whole question of government funding to the sector in this article as this is a complex area that requires dedicated research. However, just one, very significant example will illustrate my point:  in an article published in Business Day on 22 July 2014, Lisa Vetten, well-known gender activist and currently a research associate at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER), pointed out that the current DSD budget includes a large amount to be spent on a ‘victim empowerment programme’, including a ‘command centre’. This says Vetten is a very expensive and unnecessary duplication of services already provided by a NGO that is also funded, albeit at a much lower rate, by DSD.
    The MACS Media-derived article also includes generalised statements on the ethics, credibility and management effectiveness of the NGO sector, asserting that organisations are corrupt, have ‘no vision’, and have ‘weak production’ and ‘quality control’. This catalogue of purported failings ends with recommendations for NGOs to be ‘more commercialised’ and become ‘more profitable’. Again these assertions are made in a completely undifferentiated way, so that a reader unfamiliar with the achievements of the sector would perceive that every NGO in South Africa is corrupt, ineffective and make no effort to develop alternative income streams.
    This one-dimensional perspective is not only damaging but also incorrect.  In the words of Wits university Vice Chancellor Professor Adam Habib: ‘An important characteristic of the contemporary era is not a consistency in message or practice within civil society organisations. Rather it is that democratisation and globalisation have facilitated the reassertion of the plural character of civil society and undermined the homogenous effects that the anti-apartheid struggle had enveloped the sector within.’ 1
    Given the undoubted crisis in education and consequent skills shortage in South Africa, there are certainly many managerially inefficient or inexperienced organisations in the sector, (as indeed there are within the business and government sectors). However the contributions of the majority of organisations far outweigh the failings of the few. CAF Southern Africa’s key role is to link potential donors and volunteers with credible civil society organisations. We have over 500 excellent organisations on our database that have met our standards of due diligence. We know that there are several thousand other organisations countrywide making invaluable contributions - let us applaud the work of the strong while we intervene constructively when needed to improve the environment and strengthen the effectiveness of those organisations needing a helping hand.

         - Colleen du Toit is the chief executive officer at CAF Southern Africa.

    [1] Habib, Adam in Inyathelo Annual Report 2013 – 2014, p 16

    Colleen du Toit
  • CASAC Criticises Zuma Over Nkandla

    The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC) says that President Jacob Zuma's failure to account properly on the Public Protector's report on his Nkandla homestead shows contempt for Parliament and for the Constitution.

    In a press statement, CASAC points out that, "The president should be allowed to complete his answers to the questions that had been tabled for answer on 21 August 2014, and to respond to any supplementary questions in the National Assembly.”

    Meanwhile, Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, wrote that, "I am concerned that the decision you have made regarding the police minister gives him power he does not have under law, which is to review my decision taken in pursuit of the powers of administrative scrutiny I am given... by the Constitution."
    To read the article titled, “CASAC: Zuma showing contempt for Parliament,” click here.

    News 24
  • SASSA to Act Against CPS

    According to an article by Asha Speckman, it could not get much worse for Net1 UEPS Technologies, which faces the wrath of the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) over unlawful charges for airtime and loans that the service provider has been deducting from the monthly payout to beneficiaries under its R10 billion social grant tender.

    Net1 shares went into free-fall following the ruling, dropping 28 percent to R70 during intraday trade on the JSE, before recouping some of the losses to end the session down 12.76 percent at R85.50.

    Meanwhile, SASSA chief executive, Virginia Petersen, says the agency is considering its options and is intending to revise its contracts with the service provider.

    To read the article titled, “Now we can clip the wings of CPS – SASSA,” click here.

    IOL News
  • Weaker APRM Bad for Governance

    The African Peer Review Mechanism (ARPM) - set up by former President Thabo Mbeki to tackle the continent's problems - is a shambles.

    According to a report by former mechanism chairman Akere Muna, the institution lacks backing by African leaders and is being ‘driven into the ground’ by its chief executive officer and its secretariat that can barely function.

    The mechanism has in the past served as a reliable indicator of emerging troubles on the continent.

    In South Africa, an ARPM report alerted the government to tensions between locals and foreigners that culminated in 2008's wave of xenophobic violence.

    To read the article titled, ‘Mbeki brainchild 'now a shambles'’, click here.

    Times Live
  • SACC Calls for Resignations Over Nkandla

    The South African Council of Churches (SACC) has responded to the Public Protector's report by saying those implicated should consider stepping down.

    In a press statement, the SACC points out that, "For the future of the nation and the sustainability of our fledgling democracy, we urge those implicated in the report to consider stepping down."
    The organisation also says that the report on Nkandla "should be interrogated, not on the timing of its release, but the merits of the contents therein and the implications for the country."

    To read the article titled, “Those implicated by Nkandla report should resign: SACC,” click here.

    Times Live
  • SABC Board Backs Motsoeneng

    The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) chairperson, Ellen Zandile Tshabalala, has laughed off public protector, Thuli Madonsela's findings of irregularities in acting chief operating officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng's salary.
    Tshabalala states that Hlaudi is diligent and very capable, the members of the board are right behind him.
    A group of opposition parties is laying criminal charges against Motsoeneng following a damning report, titled ‘When Governance and Ethics Fail,’ released by Madonsela on 17 February 2014.
    To read the article titled, “SABC chief: Nevermind Thuli, long may Hlaudi reign,” click here.

    Mail and Guardian
  • IPO Calls for Intervention at SABC

    The Independent Producers Organisation (IPO) has called for an urgent intervention at the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) following a damning report by Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela.
    The IPO appeals to all institutions designed to provide oversight - Parliament, the shareholder in the department of communications, and Independent Communications Authority of South Africa - to exercise their mandate and to intervene urgently.
    The organisation, which represents the majority of South Africa's working producers, says it is concerned and distressed by the continuing instability at the SABC.
    To read the article titled, “Urgent intervention needed at SABC: IPO,” click here.

    Times Live
  • Civil Society Calls for Accountability

    Zimbabwean civil society groups have expressed their unrelenting disapproval of the breakdown of public accountability and called on the government to urgently set up a commission of enquiry into corporate corruption.
    In a joint statement, 66 civil society groups states that the commission should investigate 'obscene salaries' and other underhand dealings in the local government and public sector.
    The groups also called on the country’s President, Robert Mugabe, to break his silence on corruption, in which his aides and close allies have been named.
    To read the article titled, “Civil society call for commission of enquiry Into corporate corruption,” click here.

    All Africa
  • Think Tanks Hold Govts Accountable - ISS

    The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) says that that think tanks are there to research issues such as service delivery.

    ISS executive director, Jakkie Cilliers, says the perception that think tanks are there to criticise the government is not true.

    Cilliers, who is of the view that think tanks are there to hold the government accountable on behalf of civil society, adds that they have the responsibility to look at how African leaders can invest their countries’ income.

    To read the article titled, “Think tanks to hold governments accountable: ISS,” click here.

    SABC News
  • Call to Prosecute ‘Thieving’ NGO Leaders

    Zambian women rights activist, Emily Sikazwe, has urged police to investigate unscrupulous and thieving non-governmental organisation (NGOs) leaders and make them account for donor funds.
    Sikazwe, who is former Women for Change executive director, says thieving NGO leaders should be prosecuted and sent to jail for stealing and abusing donor funds.
    She who is of the view that Zambia has adequate laws to stamp out corrupt activities among NGOs, is also calling for the beefing up of the Registrar of Societies so that the institution will be able to trace the sources of funding for NGOs.
    To read the article titled, “Investigate thieving NGO leaders – Sikazwe,” click here.

    Zambia Daily Mail
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