Changes at Association for Rural Advancement

The Association for Rural Advancement (AFRA), one of KwaZulu-Natal’s oldest land rights non-governmental organisations (NGOs), will be taking time out to re-gear itself for a new focus in 2014 in order to meet the new challenges associated with land reform and a donor funding environment that has changed fundamentally since 1994. This will involve major restructuring over the remainder of the year. The restructuring includes the possibility of organisational downsizing in order that AFRA meets its legal financial obligations to staff, a decision that could involve retrenchments. It will be accompanied by a period of re-strategising to develop a new direction that is more appropriate to the challenges in the land sector and the funding environment.

This period of re-strategising coincides with changes in management within AFRA with the departure of AFRA’s director, Stephen Hulbert, who was at the helm of AFRA since 2010 and who has now taken early retirement. AFRA Board thanks him for steering AFRA over this period and wishes him well into the future. AFRAs deputy director, Musa Zakwe, will also be leaving AFRA in June 2013 to pursue new interests and the Board wishes him well in his endeavours. To ensure that the AFRA ship is steered towards this re-gearing exercise the Board has appointed Mike Cowling as interim manager of AFRA, effective from 1 May 2013. Mike has a long history of being associated with AFRA as a Board member and more recently of the Land Rights Legal Unit of AFRA which he has managed over the past three years.

Since 2009, AFRA has made a number of attempts to create a sustainable financial and organisational base from which to operate. These have included attempts to develop new donor relationships and to undertake work that donors have prioritised along with careful and rigorous financial monitoring and use of reserves. However, the slide into financial unsustainability has continued despite this effort by staff and Board, and it has now become apparent that AFRA can no longer continue to operate without major restructuring. Over its 34-year history AFRA has through prudent fundraising and financial management built up a reserve fund and this has enabled AFRA to continue functioning during this challenging environment. The Board has thus decided to take this decision now while it is still able to fulfil its legal obligations to staff, to complete all contracts with donors, to meet outstanding responsibilities to rural communities that it works with and to do this while it has some remaining reserves to fund a radical new approach to its work. The decision taken by AFRA’s Board this week has thus been informed by its fiduciary imperative to avoid ‘trading recklessly’.

In significant measure, these changes are forced by an increasingly constrained funding environment brought about by fundamental changes to the practices of donor funding to NGOs since 1994. Although there is now more donor funding coming into South Africa than ever before, this funding comes mainly in the form of bilateral support to government or is made available to international NGOs. Only five percent of all donor funding is available to locally-grown NGOs like AFRA as a result of shifts in donor priorities to other less developed countries. While the five nevertheless is an important source of funding, there is increasingly tough competition for it and NGOs are compelled to seek self-sustaining work.

The land reform sector has also changed significantly since AFRA was established in 1979 to assist black rural land owners and labour tenants in (then) Natal to resist forced removals under the apartheid government, and AFRA has responded adaptively to these new strategic challenges. After the first democratic elections, AFRA supported rural communities and the new Department of Land Affairs to formulate land reform policy to address the economic and land dispossessions of the past, and it has been a key participant in the development of much land reform legislation. However, land reform implementation quickly confronted numerous problems, leading to a period in AFRA of critical engagement with government. The problems have nevertheless persisted and the current Minister Gugile Nkwinti has now admitted that land reform has failed both in terms of it pace and quality.

While AFRA believes that land reform retains a political importance in addressing the hurts and injustices of apartheid, it is also important that land reform finds a coherent economic rationale on which to build a transformed rural society that will contribute to addressing poverty, unemployment and jobless growth. AFRA believes that its new strategic direction will have to confront this challenge in order for it to continue to have a useful role to play in the land sector. It looks forward to being able meet this challenge through the development of a new strategic direction in consultation with its community and donor partners and other stakeholders in the land sector in order to put itself on a firm strategic and financially sustainable trajectory.

For more information contact:

Shirin Motala
Board Chairperson
Association for Rural Advancement
Tel: 031 242 5400

Mike Cowling
Acting Director
Association for Rural Advancement
Tel: 033 345 7607

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Date published: 
Friday, 22 January, 2016
Association for Rural Advancement

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