New Publication on the Sustainability of South African Civil Society

South Africa’s civil society sector, variously known as the nonprofit (NPO) or non-governmental organisation (NGO) sector, plays a vital and often unacknowledged developmental role. In spite of an enlightened Constitution, discrimination and inequity still abound in South Africa. Women, children, people of colour, indigenous peoples, migrants, gay and lesbian groups, and people living with HIV/AIDS, are among particularly vulnerable groups. Although there has been some progress in racial, ethnic, and gender equality since1994, South Africa remains a vastly unequal society, driven by all the worst consequences of pervasive poverty. These include health, education, welfare and human rights failures.

The civil society sector is dedicated to alleviation of these and other damaging socio-economic conditions. Over the past two decades the sector has increasingly filled gaps in government service delivery. It is no exaggeration to contend that without the efforts of organisations of civil society the suffering of the poor, the marginalised and the sick would be significantly more acute. In view of this it seems indefensible that this important sector is experiencing a sustainability crisis. While we do not have current and reliable statistics on funding to the sector, a variety of sources show that most organisations rely on a combination of (diminishing) international funding, corporate social investment, donations from individuals, and a degree of income-generation, often via government contracts. The support of government is erratic at best, as reflected in several recent media exposés. As a result, the sustainability of many important organisations is threatened and many have been forced to close or to drastically reduce staff and associated capacity. These circumstances are greatly exacerbated by the current uncertain economic climate.

With the intention of improving this situation, a group of organisations have published a new report: ‘Critical Perspectives on the Sustainability of the South African Civil Society Sector’. Including an assessment of the functioning of the National Lotteries Distribution Trust Fund (NLDTF) and the National Development Agency (NDA), the report represents the outcome of extensive research and consultation. The objective is to  improve the practice of government grant-making and investment in the sector, and in the process contribute to an effective enabling regulatory environment for South African civil society.

The research revealed that the legislated ‘enabling environment’ for civil society requires review and strengthening. The NPO Directorate within the Department of Social Development has been unable to effectively implement its responsibilities in accordance with the Nonprofit Organisations Act. The NLDTF and the NDA have not managed to disburse funding effectively to the sector in accordance with the relevant legislation. The serious lack of current and reliable national data about the size, scope and activities of the sector negatively affects the ability of the sector and of government to support it. Statistics South Africa has not met its obligations in this regard. The sustainability and effectiveness of civil society to address poverty and inequality is compromised by these problems.

The report concludes with a number of practical conclusions and recommendations. Key among these is a call for the National Planning Commission to review the current dysfunctional regulatory environment in consultation with representatives of the sector. Piecemeal adjustments will not work – a cross-government systemic approach must be adopted in order to ensure that the various departments and state-related agencies function in accordance with over-arching developmental policies. The expected outcome of this recommendation should be a holistic framework for the location and effective functioning of the NDA, NLDTF, specific allocations from official development assistance, private philanthropy and corporate social investments, congruent with the developmental state.

Click here to read the full report.

For more information contact:

Colleen du Toit
Mobile: 083 646 8469

Phiroshaw Camay
Mobile: 082 886 5886

Rajesh Latchman
Mobile: 083 443 0227

Issued by:

Charities Aid Foundation (CAF Southern Africa)
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Co-operative for Research and Education (CORE)
Southern African NGO Network (SANGONeT)
Legal Resources Centre (LRC)
National Welfare Social Service & Development Forum

To view other NGO press releases, refer to www.ngopulse.org/group/home-page/pressreleases.

 

Date published: 
Tuesday, 7 August, 2012
Organisation: 
Charities Aid Foundation (CAF Southern Africa), CIVICUS:World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Co-operative for Research and Education (CORE), Southern African NGO Network (SANGONeT), Legal Resources Centre (LRC), National Welfare Social Service & Deve

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