May 24, 2007

Editorial: Life in the Time of Post-Gear

Filed under: Theorising Practice_May 2007 — newritings @ 4:49 pm

This is the third reincarnation of the Development Update: the first began as an annual review of the voluntary sector by INTERFUND, round about 1993, and the second phase as a quarterly journal of INTERFUND and the South African NGO Coalition. This third phase to be called Theorising Practice – Development Update, located within my skeletal department and resting fully on my shoulders, is a work progress. A broader working committee that will support editorial work will have to be established, but the emphasis will be on activists working voluntarily to ensure that critical thinking again becomes a weapon of struggle. We have neither the time nor the resources to carry comrades that carry titles but do not live the positions that they hold.

Theorising Practice – Development Update aims to build on the earlier traditions of the organisation in its collaboration with INTERFUND and most ably edited by Gerald Kraak. My personal vision is for the print edition to be modelled on Social Review (early 1980’s), which was an inexpensive yet simple and readable publication for the progressive movement. Now we will produce such publication for the development sector: to write and think about our work, daily. Thinking is not a weekend special, so it is my view that we can revitalize thinking as a weapon of struggle. In this endeavour there are no holy cows, we are all subject to critical reflection and scrutiny with one difference – the polemic must enhance our efforts towards tackling the gnawing poverty and inequality and the monstrous systems that breed them at home and Africa, and the whole Global South.

Our mandates are historic and clear. As far back as 1994, comrade Madiba in thanking Africans via their leaders for the role they played in liberating Africa, did more that symbolically tie South Africa’s fate to that of the whole continent on whose shoulders it symbolically sits. [1] His message itself was blunt and speaks, amongst others, on the need for good progressive governance, the forerunner to African Peer Review Mechanism, which Zanele Twala writes about. I think we must get beyond the procedural stumbling blocks towards looking at the substantive proposals of what cooperation means in new governance, and how will civil society be fully and qualitatively involved. In 1994 Madiba spoke of the need for African renewal but pointed out the fundamental challenges thus: “Africa continues to be a net exporter of capital and suffers from deteriorating terms of trade. Our capacity for self-reliance, to find the resources to generate sustained development remains very limited. Equally complex questions that bear on the nature and quality of government are also central to our capacity to produce the better life, which our people demand and deserve. We must face the matter squarely that where there is something wrong in how we govern ourselves, it must be said that the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are ill governed.”

It is in this spirit of speaking honestly and critically of our challenges that this journal is being re-launched. Renewal is a gigantic exercise, whether of self, our organisations, our countries, the continent and the Global South and the world – but it is what struggle is all about. It’s a heavy burden that NGOs and Civil Society must grapple with.

Rebuilding civil society at this time is like riding a bicycle. We have to keep cycling or we will fall down. Added to this, we do not have the option of stopping, given the challenges and hope of a newly emerging democracy where poverty and inequality levels are unacceptable. So we are tasked to re-new whilst we march or ride slowly, or as the old struggle song goes, “we can shoot and run at the same time…”

In undertaking this endeavour, I must add, that it is without obligation but it is rather a labour of love, which I hope dovetails with our organisational renewal imperatives that are discussed in this collection and also for SANGOCO in my reflections dialogue with Kumi Naidoo, former director of SANGOCO and now with CIVICUS. This edition also highlights a few issues of concern – if not crisis- for the sector. Crisis in the sector may be regarded as occupational hazard, since the lack of resources for progressive work in development / not for profit sector in the post-GEAR era is immense.

The devastation of the GEAR imposed “cuts” on social delivery and the work of NGOs who under the guise of voluntarism and community participation were or are doing the work of government agencies for a fraction of the costs. This shifting in name and in practice is shameful. The name shift from Welfare Department to Social Development was one thing. It is disconcerting to hear officials argue that the reliance of people (orphans, old age, etc.) on state agencies creates dependencies – by which they mean is “bad”. Why then do we have constitutional governments which set out to look at the most vulnerable of their people? How can they say this, when they are eating three square meals, sit in air conditioned offices and earn fat perks with heavy car allowances?

The GEAR era failed in its promise of creating jobs, as well as the mobilisation of private donations for the voluntary sector in any meaningful way. It is in this regard that the writings on the enabling environment by former SANGOCO staff member Thami Mabandla and Conrad Jardine (Inkanyezi Guide Star) reflect upon, as it speaks to the challenges of renewal and proper data management particularly of the rich resource of the sector.

So in the “post-Gear-licking-wounds-rebuilding-strength-context” we find that NGOs have been starved of funds (and be at the mercy of those who are well resourced: government departments, foreign donors and international NGOs) and get attacked for being agents of foreign governments without real support from home governments and its private donors, and agencies. And this song of lack of funds is not a new one.

The Development Update editorial of 1997 (June; vol 1. no1) had this to say about the issue, and I approvingly quote in some detail:

In this issue we revisit familiar territory.

It has become a commonplace that the voluntary sector is in a state of crisis. Key components of the crisis are the reduction of funding for NGOs and CBOs, in particular by northern donors, and the failure of the new government to make up the shortfall. Some observers have identified the source of the government’s perfidy to be its abandonment of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) with its supposed promise of a developmental state and the adoption in its place of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution Strategy (GEAR) with its emphasis on private-sector led growth.

NGOs which at one stage expected direct government funding of their developmental activities have instead been forced to compete with the private sector for government contracts. To do so NGOs have been forced to professionalise and become more competitive, often to the cost of the close consultative relationships with the communities they have were established to assist.

In the face of this, the “brain drain” of skilled NGO professionals to the government and the corporate sector, a hostile legislative environment and other capacity problems, many NGOs have gone to the wall.

The 1997 editorial then asked, as we do now, “how much of this is true or accurate?” My view is that the slow demise and renewal of the sector is still taking place. It is a long process until we turn it around. Today, we are now working with more and more community based organisations, which in some way opens the door to work with or collaborate with social movements / new or old.

Whilst we are not convinced of the how much post “post -GEAR environment” we are living, it is correct to state there has been a shift in government spending from the narrow fiscal restraint imposed by GEAR. This is something that Ebrahim Khalil Hassen’s reflection on the Peoples Budget Coalition briefly touches upon, and his piece is worth reading for some of the insights on the economic crisis and social organisation. The question is however, is ASGISA (Accelerated and Shared Growth- South Africa) really an alternative? Its initial sounds were better then the “non-negotiable” rhetoric of Madiba when he spoke in defence of GEAR. According to Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka: “More broadly, we need to ensure that the fruits of growth are shared in such a way that poverty comes as close as possible to being eliminated, and that the severe inequalities that still plague our country are considerably reduced. Our vision of our development path is a vigorous and inclusive economy where production products and services are diverse, more value is added to our products and services, costs of production and distribution are reduced, labour is readily absorbed into sustainable employment, and new businesses are encouraged to proliferate and expand.”

In addition, Mlambo Ncuka added that where “necessary, the programme will be amended or supplemented. We believe that we have built the basis for a national programme of shared economic growth with the interventions with broader society.”

That’s what any responsive government must do. However, unlike the Reconstruction and Development Programme (Rest in Peace), ASGISA relies heavily on experts from outside, which may derail our national objectives. (The programme will also be subjected to expert review, such as from the team of economists and social scientists based at Harvard and other universities). The role of experts in supporting the fight against poverty and inequality must be welcomed; but note that experts, local as well, have not served the purpose of justice, transparency and accountability

ASGISA media briefing asserts the programme will strive to achieve our social objectives such as the Millennium Development Goals. This is welcomed, providing it is seen as minimum programme for us and does not replace our home-grown aspirations and goals such at the Freedom Charter, the RDP goals and targets and our national constitution.

Like the New Economic Programme for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), ASGISA is defined by government not as a new programme but as a new strategy with a re-invigoraed focuses on shared growth. What has struck us is that, whilst there is a lot of talk of ASGISA, very little written documents are doing the rounds, which in itself is the downside of policy-making via the media. It does not work, or does not last. For informed debate we would expect a dedicated site on the web, or at cubicles in government offices, which explain the new programme.

The public document on ASGISA, Media Briefing by Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (6 February 2006), BACKGROUND DOCUMENT A CATALYST FOR Accelerated and Shared Growth-South Africa (ASGISA) spelt out the following details.

The R372 billion to be spent by the South African government on infrastructure spending under its Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa initiative over the next three years would be very closely tracked by both the National Treasury and at Cabinet level, South African Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has pledged.

In a nutshell

  • To halve poverty by 2015, by doing a range of things. In addition, to reduce unemployment, government will work more closely with women and the youth and increase the numbers of young people taken up through the National Youth Service.
  • A growth rate of between 4-6% over the years. “Government research shows that we will have a consistent rate of about 5% between 2004 and 2014 – “APRM CASR: The government has initiated ASGISA in order to raise growth to at least 6% per annum and ensure that the benefits of growth are better shared by al” (p12)
  • Government investment of more than R370 billion in infrastructure – Eskom (R84 bn), Transnet (R47 bn), water (R19,7 bn) and more.
  • To target certain sectors to create jobs: tourism, metals and metallurgy, biofuels, chemicals, agriculture, business process outsourcing (call centres) are just some of these.
  • Government accepts that there is a shortage of skills in the country. It will take measures to improve the quality of education, target ABET, further education and training as well as artisan skills, which are scarce.
  • It will intervene to break down the historical inequalities between the first and second economy and link the two economies more strongly. Key interventions will be to promote local development, build cooperatives and make access to capital and to government contracts easier for cooperatives and small businesses. Expanded public works programmes will continue.
  • To improve the service that government provides, it will deploy experienced professionals and managers to local government.

For many of us seeking a democratic, inclusive and accountable society it is clear that the economy must be at the centre of such an endeavour. It must be an economy, however, that works for all and not only the corporate elites as the experience of Crotty and Bonorchis quoted in my article on crime attests. Whilst we hope and fight for a just, participatory and inclusive economy, we insist that ASGISA must emphasise the sharing so that it does not become an EKSKUUS (excuse in Afrikaans), at some are already mockingly calling it.

* By Hassen Lorgat, Media and Communications Manager for SA NGO Coalition. He has also worked for various trades unions in SA.

[1] Nelson Mandela – African Renaissance – speech given at the Organisation of African Unity meeting of heads of states on 13 June 1994 (Granta 48, Summer 1994).

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