Putting South Africa Under A Microscope

I have battled with issues that our country is faced with; the scourge of poverty, the deepening unemployment and the unrelenting inequality. These are produced by colonial as well as apartheid epochs of our history. They translate into over 400 hundred years of oppression of black people by colonialism and apartheid using the most brutal system ever known to humans. We have found political solutions in the advent of our constitutional democracy and are hopeful in the ability of our country to deliver on economic freedom that we so much desire. I have no doubt that economic freedom will be achieved, but I have a challenge in trying to comprehend how we will get there in a stable and safe way.

The Marikana Massacre, the persistent service delivery protests, the protracted Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) all strike for better wages, these are all at the heart of a cry for economic freedom. It is challenging us as South Africans at the most basic thought of our humanness. It appeals to our most basic sense of morality that we have unfinished business in restructuring our society.

I have come to the conclusion that the three sectors of civil society, state and business have clearly not found one another or that they engage past one another in their endeavours to deal with issues that at most threaten our democracy or our very own existence. The gaps are clearly on the wall for us to see, but I worry that like an Ostrich, we prefer to burry our heads in the sand.

My own organisation, the South African National NGO Coalition (SANGOCO), in partnership with the Southern African NGO Network (SANGONeT), just held a service delivery summit in Mafikeng, North West, in April 2014. It is at this occasion that startling evidence of poor service given to our people by our municipalities was revealed. The political leadership as in former Premier of North West, Thandi Modise, and deputy minister of the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), Andries Nel, informed us of the difficulties faced by government starting from capacity, competency problems, fraud and corruption, lack of skills, mismanagement, and the list goes on.

It is not the revelation of problems that I am concerned about, because these are well documented and form an insurmountable information in conferences and summits that we have so accustomed to engage in. We seem to be better at identifying our problems. It would have been nice if we could be better at identifying problems and implementing our solutions.

Where to from here?

We have deliberated on this question and realised that the power to change people’s lives lies in empowering civil society organisations. They have to see themselves as organs of change in their own development. People have to stop being passive and become active participants that have the responsibility to their destiny. SANGOCO is now embarking on restructuring itself for this daunting task of becoming a developmental agent of society. We have gone to our provincial structures with a purpose of establishing them to be strong players in their respective areas of engagement; be it at policy formulation or at implementation level.

Empowerment to us means capacity to plan and deliver on those plans. It encapsulates leadership skills, human resource mobilisation, monetary resource mobilisation, building stakeholder relations, acquiring top technology, etc.

In the development agenda, the regional and international relations are important as pillars to build on, especially on knowledge sharing, technology exchange programmes and financial support. We have realised that we need to work hard on this aspect and that is why we have partnered with SANGONeT,  one of very few non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Africa involved in the field of information communication technologies (ICTs) and continues to serve civil society with a wide range of ICT products and services. It must be emphasised that this partnership aims to ensure that SANGOCO member organisations benefit from SANGONeT services.

The campaign identified two elements; engage and know your country blue print – the National Development Plan: Vision for 2030 (NDP). We acknowledge the imperfections of the NDP, but we are convinced that it informs South Africa’s development agenda and that it should guide in our engagement with government. We are in a process of organising a summit focusing on the NDP for NGOs. The summit aims to empower NGOs to understand and learn to tailor their development interventions in line with the NDP.

It has come to my attention that different line ministries are going through presentations for their budget votes in parliament. The debates are around what these ministries want to achieve and how they want to achieve it. Grand plans are submitted and all compete for the same resources limited by what is in the treasury. These plans do not accommodate popular participation through community organisations. People’s organisations are as usual expected to participate through voluntarism. Deliver services without resources which leads to skewed democratic processes.

Balanced Democracy

Balanced democracy should lead to ability of all sectors of society to adequately mobilise resources both human and monetary within and outside state institutions. Power relations turn to be skewed toward a more powerful political society and state institutions are used unfairly to benefit those in power if other sectors are disabled to resource themselves. We need to realise this as a recipe for constant societal instability.

While agreeing to a good story South Africa has to tell, the Minister of Housing, Lindiwe Sisulu, gives us a rude awakening to the fact that a housing backlog exists since 1994. Addressing the backlog will be a challenging task. Sisulu enumerates a number of factors contributing to this backlog; from mushrooming of informal settlements, population growth, red tape at municipal level, and issues around the quality of services.

She said, “NGOs, particularly those operating in informal settlements, find government unreasonable and uncaring about the plight of people living in informal settlements.”(The Star: Tuesday: 22 July 2014). Clearly, NGOs need to interact with government beyond just campaigning and voicing out dissatisfaction. SANGOCO advocates for active citizenry and this can be achieved through participating in both policy making and implementation. NGOs need to participate as agents of change in improving our socio-economic development.

Our engagement will contribute towards job creation, poverty relieve, promote utility through community development, reduce inequality, building a proudly South African society, stretching our capacity for social cohesion and improve national image, etc.

We therefore commit to:

  • Familiarise ourselves with the NDP;
  • Develop good relations with all stakeholders;
  • Develop understanding around legal framework and procurement;
  • Gear ourselves for good governance and project management;
  • Improve on understanding issues of compliance with laws and regulations; and
  • Building effective and efficient institutions able to mobilise resources local and internationally.

All of this will happen at sector level, but of course, we have to cast our eyes on what government has to do:

  • Take NGOs into confidence and undertake to help them develop institutional capacity;
  • Treat NGOs as agents of change and partners in development;
  • Share knowledge and resources (both human and financial) to advance socio-economic development;
  • Promote access to other resources such as training through Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs);
  • Assist NGOs with infrastructure for their operations;
  • Assist NGOs with legal documentation such as memorandum of understanding (MOU) and other instruments that empower these entities in their legal standing;
  • Adhere to agreed timelines and deadlines on delivery and pay when due dates come;
  • Be professional in the approach to management of service delivery;
  • Practise continuity especially when political leadership changes occur as result of election or any other reason; and
  • Corruption should be dealt with decisively.

We are convinced that partnerships with NGOs can produce very good results for our economic development and management. Many of the ills that plague our country can be a thing of the past. We have an economy almost bordering on first world status and therefore need to gear ourselves professionally to up the bar in terms of managing it. We more often than not, produce leadership that end up in government and lack the ability to replenish on time. We need to address this situation. NGOs must also attract good leadership from other sectors and this can only be achieved if the sector improves institutionally.

In conclusion, I urge all of us to contribute what we can to create a balanced democracy in which all find space to develop for the good of our country. Let us not neglect this sector, for it would be at our peril. A strong civil society is a need for a flourishing and prosperous democracy.


- Jimmy Gotyana is president for the South African National NGO Coalition.  

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