April 5, 2009

On Palestine, Inspecting Dimona and civil society accountability

Filed under: manifesto,opinion article,Theorising Practice_May 2007 — newritings @ 3:45 pm
in 1959 Russel campaigning for nuclear disarmament

In 1959 Russell campaining for nuclear disarmament

I was struck by the comments by one of the blogs contributors who complained, quite correctly in my view that, progress in the Lets Inspect Dimona initiative coordinated by Adbusters, was rather tardy.

Hadil wrote:

“Unfortunately I dont think Adbusters are serious enough about this campaign. As they mentioned in their reply to my email inquiry “they got ahead of themselves”.
Their lame explanation was: “we thought we would have a specific place on the website where visitors could make a related donation, but we don’t. Sorry.”
I thank them for the slogan which is catchy and seems so crystal clear pure logic… but it seems they are not up to the challenge.
I wonder if the campaign could find a home elsewhere where it would be more visually recognized.”

The points raised have wider implications and I suggest are not solely about the important questions of Palestine but more generally about civil societies political and moral accountability. Here I refer to accountability horizontally not vertically to some board members or a bigger funder- partner, but to those out there – us- the general populace in whose name funds, and other resources, and a mandate is sought. If a civil society organization takes upon itself to champion any good cause, be it tax justice, racism in sports, violence against women, HIV – whatever, they do this not for themselves, but for all of us. Since it is in our broader name thus, it is imperative that they work in a manner that is both sharing, open and professional keeping one eye on what is to be done, and working with others to make the movement stronger, more informed and educated and thereby strenghtening transparency and accountability. Working with others, and not for others is truly empowering.

I know of some groups that refuse to publicize events and share information in platforms such as blogs (sharing what must be known by all, future meeting dates, how to get others involved etc) so that they can continue to monopolize this struggle with hidden powers of information clandestinely gathered, and thus those who know are more powerful. This is a politics of cliques and cabals who use small bits of information to empower them, thus they continue to cling on to this resource selfishly. I am not sure we can build a truly accountable and participatory democracy without sharing information openly and freely, and where debate is stifled. That is cheap politicking,and has no place in our movement if, as we say, we want to build an inclusive, participatory and democratic political culture that is pluralistic and not Stalinist.

I am not saying that Adbusters are guilty of this kind of behaviour. Far from it -but what I do concur with the contributor, is this: if Adbusters commit to lead on a campaign as important as the Lets Inspect Dimona – other civil society groups correctly back off and let them lead. However, this is premused on the good faith that this will be undertaken, and undertaken professionally with good use of the resources at their disposal. Failure to do so, leads to widespread suspicion that the organizers have either been “bought over” by omission or by commission. That is a bad slur for any group to endure, and I know that as a subscriber to Adbusters that they are a professional outfit and will act professionally to get this small campaign of the ground, failing which they will apologise to their readers and ask others to lead on it. I know many who are able and willing…

The anti Iraq war movement was the biggest and most global ever
The anti Iraq war movement was the biggest and most global ever

2: There is another campaign on Palestine that has caught my eye which I want to share. It is one inspired by one of my favourite philosopher activists Bertrant Russell: Russell Tribunal on Palestine

They have videos of the speeches from speakers launching the Russell Tribunal on Palestine are now online:

On their web that write that the “recent war waged by the Israeli government and the Israeli army on the Gaza strip, already under a blockade, underlines the particular responsibility of the United States and of the European Union in the perpetuation of the injustice done to the Palestinian people, deprived of its fundamental rights.

It is important to mobilize the international public opinion so that the United Nations and Member States adopt the necessary measures to end the impunity of the Israeli State, and to reach a just and durable solution to this conflict.

Following an appeal from Ken Coates, Nurit Peled, and Leila Shahid, and with the support of over a hundred well-known international personalities, it has been decided to organise a Russell Tribunal on Palestine.

Based on the Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued on the 9th of July 2004 and on the relevant resolutions of the United Nations Organisation, this Russell Tribunal on Palestine is a civic initiative promoting international law as the core element of the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Further than Israel’s responsibility, it aims to demonstrate the complicity of Third States and International Organisations which, through their passivity or active support, allow Israel to violate the rights of the Palestinian People, and let this situation be continued and aggravated.
The next step will then be to establish how this complicity results in international responsibilities.

Through a decentralised functioning, the organisation of public sessions and other public events, the organisation of a Russell Tribunal on Palestine is designed as a large communication event, with widespread media coverage over the tribunal and its outcomes. Indeed, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine having no official mandate, its impact rests on its ability to mobilise public opinion, so that the latter puts pressure on governments to obtain that they change their policies in the ways that are necessary to reach a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

The group can be contacted at :
Secretariat / information
S/C Forum Nord Sud, 115, rue Stévin,
B.1000 Bruxelles, Belgique.
Tel. fax +32 (0)2 231 01 74
T.R.P, 21 ter, rue Voltaire,
75011 Paris, France.
The Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation,
112 Church Street,
Maltock, Derbyshire DE4 3BZ, UK.

May 26, 2007

Contents of Theorising Practice, May 2007 issue

Filed under: Theorising Practice_May 2007 — newritings @ 4:50 pm

· Manifesto
· Editorial: Life in the Time of Post-Gear
· Breaking the Silence – 3 poems
· Review of State Institutions Supporting Constitutional Democracy – comments by POWA
· People’s Budget Campaign: Lessons and Challenges, by Ebrahim-Khalil Hassen
· Assessment of NPO ACT – January 2005
· Putting Civil Society on the Map – or Mapping Civil Society for Development, by Conrad Jardine
· A discussion on SANGOCO: Hassen Lorgat (SANGOCO) and Kumi Naidoo (CIVICUS)
· The Dearth of Civil Society, by Zukiswa Wanner
· Creating an Enabling Environment for Social Justice, by Thamsanqa Mabandla
· Civil Society Speaks – Millennium Development Goals not our Panacea but must be Engaged with, by Hassen Lorgat and Marta Garrich
· Is the African Peer Review Mechanism at Risk of Losing its Integrity?, by Zanele Twala
· Political Control and Electricity Generation, by Tristen Taylor
· Towards a Progressive Approach towards Crime and Poverty, by Hassen Lorgat

* cartoon illustrating this post by Zapiro

May 25, 2007


Filed under: manifesto,Theorising Practice_May 2007 — newritings @ 7:39 pm

Theorising Practice- Development Update is a quarterly On-Line and print forum aimed at reflexive practice for social justice activists. It builds on the work done by SANGOCO and INTERFUND over the years in the earlier publication Development Update. It aims to encourage members and allies of SANGOCO to think critically about their work, and to reflect on their work as part of a renewing of both theory and practice. In the past we called this praxis. In particular, Theorising Practice – Development Update aims to present:

progressive, enlightened and non-sectarian ideas and practice about development and the role of the voluntary sector in transformation in South Africa,

critical examination of the political, economic and social context of development,

a keener understanding of development and issues relating to development,

critical debate about development and the voluntary sector in South Africa,

a more acute understanding of international development issues,

a better understanding of regional development dynamics in the sub-continent, and

cross-sectoral debate in the voluntary sector.

Development Update will also

promote intellectual rigour and a high quality of writing,

build research and capacity in the voluntary sector, and

avoid dogma, rhetoric and jargon and promote writing in plain English.

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).

May 23, 2007

Breaking the Silence – 3 poems

Filed under: poetry,Theorising Practice_May 2007 — newritings @ 8:32 pm

The following poems were presented in the Women’s Writings Competition, 2006, organised by POWA, and are published in the collection Breaking the Silence. Positive Survivors.


Poverty is not what you think
dirty, naked and hungry
It is infinitely less
It devalues your estate
and your worth
It degrades your standing
and your substance
It steals your laughter
and your self-esteem
It freezes your assets
and your body
It shatters your spirit
and your faith
It demolishes your shelter
and your safety
It strips you of all equity
and your dignity
It renders you invisible
and well as your needs
It breaks your confidence
and your heart
It erases your power
and your rights
Poverty is a beast that devours all and leaves the shards of your compassion lying in
the ashes of your hopelessness

by Erna Myburgh*

* I was born in Pretoria and now live in Cape Town where I am retired. I’ve learnt about poverty from experience as I lost everything several years ago, and understand how it can lead to violence.

Unlock that woman

Unlock that wonderworking woman
You are keeping her in that cage far too long I
You are holding her hostile hostage
Let her out
She wants to explore, she wants to expand
You are delaying her
She wants to unleash her potential and live her life fruitfully
You are trapping her emotions, by keeping her in an emotional prison
Unblock that woman
She is not your slave
Let her, don’t deny her
She has the gifts, she has the skill
you are prohibiting her by your jealousy
You are destroying her talents with your abuse
You are raping her mercy
And insulting her integrity
You are destroying her dignity
You entice her to infuse diseases in her
Hey! Disentangle that woman
Get off her way
She defies limitations
She denies imitations
She hates dissipations
Let her loose
Unsnap those insensitive snaps
Remove those boundaries
Those high walls of insecurities and bondage
Those dangerously sparking electric fences
Where you always hold her hostile hostage
Unwind that woman and leave her unwounded
Let her power and influence be known
Let her be herself – don’t push yourself onto her
he can make it, and that you know very well
You. Are jealous of what she can become
‘Better, brighter; broader’’
Than that you have caused her to be
She can climb up high currents and mountains
She can go yonder – beyond angry stormy seas
She can brave tough winds and cross roaring rivers
She can traverse and astound the world
That you know very well
And that is why you are stopping her
By inflicting unbearable pain on her
She hates it, so stop it
You are doing her injustice
You are inconveniencing and incapacitating her capacity
She wants to make a worthwhile living
You are restricting her and denying her passage
Hey! Untrap that woman

by Evelyn Tsele

You must be crazy

You must be crazy to think that
I’m incomplete without you
That I need you to breathe life into my lungs
That my brain is a minute arrangement
That my being female is an impediment
That my future rests in your hand
I made you the King of my Kingdom
To rule this fragile heart of mine
And protect the innocence in my eyes
To sing sweet melodies with no words
And share your dreams with my fantasies
But, you chose to be a dictator
Assigning impossible tasks
Expecting me to march at your command
Moulding me to be your perfect being
Forcing me to detest myself
Polluting my body with cocaine
Addictions leading me to prostitution
Alcohol became my medication
Your cruelty has destroyed me
But it will never perish me
It destructed my physical self
But it will never stroke my soul
You must be crazy to think that
While I’m dying in this bed
Slowly losing my breath
Thinning skin fading
Eyes ballooning out
I will let you have my soul
You had the best of my body
But won’t get the last of my soul
You must be crazy
Because I was crazy enough to love you

by Puseletso Mofokeng (Poetry 2nd prize)

May 22, 2007

People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA) Comments – Review of State Institutions Supporting Constitutional Democracy

Filed under: Theorising Practice_May 2007 — newritings @ 8:28 pm

(Extract and edited… full submission on POWA’s website)

Prof A K Asmal

Ad hoc Committee on Review of Chapter 9 and Associated Institutions
Parliament of South Africa

Wendy Isaack

POWA welcomes Parliament invitation for civil society organisations to participate in this important process, which will inevitably impact on established democratic processes and systems.

The submission is premised on primarily two principles. Firstly, POWA’s mandate is to work for the complete eradication of violence against women in our society and to create a society that does not tolerate violence against women and where women are powerful, self-reliant, equal and respected. Secondly, we recognise the excessive levels of violations of the human rights of women in our society generally, the multiplicity of forms of violence against women as well as the fact that this violence frequently occurs at the intersection of different types of discrimination.

Using an indivisibility of human rights approach, the submission outlines observations and recommendations on the current and future work of only two critical institutions which we believe impacts directly on our constituency: the South African Human Rights Commission and the Commission on Gender Equality. They were established respectively in terms of section 184 and section 187 of the Constitution, Act 108 of 1996 and in our constructive and critical commentary we will reflects on the 1996 Constitution text, the relevant enabling items of legislation as well as international law minimum standards and principles dealing with National Human Rights Institutions. In addition, POWA’s role in the critical events around the Jacob Zuma Rape trial that necessitated engagement with both Commissions has demonstrated both challenges and opportunities for successful engagement in the future.

B: Summary of Findings and Recommendations

  1. Key Findings

1.1.The Human Rights Commission Act 54 of 1994, hereinafter HRC Act makes provision for the number and period of appointment of Commissioners. The Commission on Gender Equality Act, 39 of 1996 also makes provision for the number and period of appointment of Commissioners. [1] For both Commissions, this has implications for the actual execution of the mandates and for the financial resources expended for the fulfilment of these mandates. The challenge may be that where there are more Commissioners appointed for a shorter period of time, such as in the case of the CGE, there is a larger turnover and expenditure in remuneration without the appropriate and justifiable output and deliverables since there is a lack of continuity and consistency for the Commissioners.

1.2.In respect of governance, an example is the CSAP collaboration which is not functioning appropriately and/or tremendously challenged. The total budget for a 3 year period: June 2005 – June 2007 was 30 million. By June 2006 expenditure was only 8.34% of the total budget. The non- allocated balance by Sept 2006 was to be sent back to European Union (according to EU regulations by December 2006).


9 million + for community support 0% expenditure

8.1 million for CSO Support 0% expenditure

C9’s support of 7 million all spent but 30,000

Management and coordination expenditure of CSAP 44% expenditure

Most of the time was spent setting up the CSAP structure and there was no benefit to the communities of Civil Society Organisations and Chapter 9’s received new staff and resources for operations This has clearly demonstrated lack of prioritization, lack of capacity oversight and non-collaboration with Civil Society organisations or communities.

1.3. A review of the budgets, expenditure and annual reports (those which were available online) of the CGE, it was apparent that there is excessively high expenditure on administrative operations and remuneration when compared with the budget allocated for conducting programmatic work.

1.4.For both Commissions, with the exception of the Chairperson and a few Programme staff members of the Human Rights Commission, we have found through our engagement – or lack of space provided for same, that current staff composition does not necessarily lend credibility, strategic leadership and institutional vision. A number of key questions and issues warrant specific mention: Does the CGE lack a feminist discourse and human rights approach to its work? For both Commissions, is there sufficient and clear understanding of the interdependence and interrelatedness of all human rights in the execution of mandates. In particular, does the Human Rights Commission consider incidents of violence against women to be also a human rights issue and not always necessitating referral to the CGE?

1.5. The Commissions have constitutional and legal legitimacy; the urgent enquiry is whether they have social legitimacy. In some instances we have found that they do not have sufficient social recognition and therefore do not necessarily contribute to the necessary societal transformation.

1.6. On relationships with non-governmental and community based organisations, section 6 of the CGE Act and section 5 of the HRC Act provide, respectively, for the establishment of one or more committees. This provision was utilised successfully by the CGE when Dr. Sheila Meinjies established a section 6 committee for the lesbian and gay sector in 2003/4. In addition ssection 11 of the CGE Act mandates interaction with civil society organisations to further the objects of the Commission.

1.7. On independence and impartiality section 4 of the HRC Act and section 10 of the CGE Act reiterates section 184 of Constitution adding prohibition on engaging in matters/conducting investigations where he/she has pecuniary interests. For both Commissions, all organs of State should afford them assistance for the protection of their impartiality, independence and dignity. However, it must be established whether there have been situations where their independence and impartiality from government and donors and civil society organisations has been compromised.

1.8. On relationships and co-ordination between the Institutions the HRC Act in section 7 provides for the maintenance of close liaisons to foster common practices and policies to promote cooperation. Section 11 of the CGE Act provides that the CGE may refer matters to HRC and PP, as far as practical, maintain close liaisons with other institutions in order to foster common policies and practices, to promote co-operation in relation to the handling of complaints in cases of overlapping jurisdiction. Other than the research and advocacy work on Virginity Testing, there is insufficient evidence of close co-operation between the various institutions. In this regard, we reiterate the indivisibility and interrelatedness of human rights as well as the notion that women’s rights are human rights.

1.9. Finally, on investigation of complaints, it is POWA’s position that it is an inappropriate use of human and financial resources of both Commissions to investigate complaints in isolation. While we recognise the relevance and necessity of this mandate, it is however important that complaints investigated are then used strategically such as in developing thematic areas for programmatic work which also will contribute to advocacy in law and policy reform.

  1. Recommendations

2.1. An appropriate amendment of the relevant items of legislation to ensure that the same number of Commissioners are appointed for both the CGE and HRC to serve for the same period of time which will allow continuity and consistency in the fulfilment of mandates.

2.2. It is critical that systems are put in place to ensure regular financial scrutiny and therefore accountability.

2.3. Both Commissions must without delay act in accordance with their legislative mandates of developing and conducting information programmes to foster understanding of their work, their roles and activities as well as on the promotion of human rights. This will facilitate their social legitimacy.

2.4. In accordance with their mandates (section 5 HRC Act and section 6 and 11 CGE Act), the Commissions must proactively build relationships with NGOs and CBOs – particularly in areas lacking service delivery. NGOs and CBOs are a valuable source of information and can play a critical role in identifying thematic issues for intervention which will contribute to law and policy reform. In addition, NGOs and CBOs are in a position to ensure the effectiveness of the Commissions, testing their effectiveness and liaising with them over certain interventions while also critiquing their performance.

2.5. The role and functions of the Commissions should be publicised especially amongst its own staff to facilitate understanding of mandates.

2.6. On matters of public interest we must see more visible co-operation between the various institutions as per their respective mandates.

2.7. On powers and functions of the CGE and HRC, we note that there are numerous challenges and obstacles in executing their monitoring and assessment duties. It must be ascertained what activities have they engaged in to overcome these challenges? Civil society organisations have a critical role to play in this- empirical data to hold government accountable is often in the possession of NGOs and CBOs? Commissions must provide information relating to successful interventions with civil society. In respect of research and public awareness programmes, NGOs often have the expertise and can make a contribution – have these expertise been utilised? What role have they played in ensuring the state’s compliance with international law norms?

2.8. The HRC Act and the CGE Act make provision for the submission of quarterly and annual reports respectively to Parliament on the observance of human rights and on their activities in a given reporting period. Space and opportunity should be created for the engagement with shadow reports from civil society organisations on the activities of the Commissions and most importantly on the State’s accountability to protect and promote human rights and the observance thereof.

[1] Human Rights Commission Act of 1994 section 3: Not less than five members full time appointed for a period not exceeding seven years; and Commission on Gender Equality Act, section 3: A Chairperson and no fewer than seven and no more than eleven members with the necessary knowledge or experience with regard to matters connected with the objects of the Commission appointed full time or part time and shall hold office for a fixed term not exceeding 5 years.

People’s Budget Campaign: Lessons and Challenges

Filed under: Theorising Practice_May 2007 — newritings @ 4:47 pm

The Growth, Employment and Redistribution: A Macroeconomic Strategy (GEAR) heralded a significant shift in the approach of the first democratic government in South Africa. GEAR argued for a set of orthodox economic prescriptions, which had the support of World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. These policies included reducing the budget deficit, trade liberalisation and privatisation. Progressive civil society argued that the GEAR strategy represented a ‘home grown structural adjustment programme’. In its defence government argued that GEAR was needed to both avoid a debt trap, and would lead to longer period of economic growth and employment creation. Moreover, they argued that GEAR was the only alternative.

The People’s Budget Campaign was initiated in 1999, three years after the GEAR strategy was announced. Drawing on a process of mobilisation through the Poverty Hearings, the anti-GEAR stance and struggles in unions, as well as disappointment due to parliament being unable to amend budgets, the need for a progressive alternative became more urgent. The Congress of South African Trade Unions, South African Council of Churches and South African NGO Coalition came together to develop an alternative focussing on the budget.

The start of the People’s Budget Campaign was rocky. The campaign had no financial resources; the prospect of drafting an alternative was daunting, and most importantly, the policy positions of the campaign would be scrutinised by government and business. During the 2000/1 – barely five months after the campaign was launched – the People’s Budget Campaign produced its first alternative proposals to the budget. The publication – with the benefit of hindsight – represented both an innovative approach focussed on alternatives, but also inspired leadership from partners in the coalition. The research going into the publication draws on work happening across civil society and from academic institutions. In a sense, the first People’s Budget Campaign proposals provided a space for progressive researcher to have their research included in a comprehensive strategy.

Nine years later, the People’s Budget Campaign has had notable successes, but still faces significant challenges.


The People’s Budget Coalition’s impact on policy is difficult to measure. After all, the PBC is part of a broader family of progressive organisations striving for social and economic justice. Nonetheless, there have been important changes in government policy on the very issues which the PBC has advocated. Box 1 drawn from the 2008/9 proposals from the PBC summarises these issues.

Box 1: Impacts on policy

Major Proposals from People’s Budget Campaign Progress
Expansionary fiscal policy Since 2000, there has been a modest increase in the budget. Significantly, the results since 2000 substantiate the assumptions of our macroeconomic model developed by EPRI. We are however concerned that there is a projected surplus for the 2008/9 financial year.
Increasing tax: GDP ratio The MTBPS indicates that the Tax: GDP ratio will increase
Infrastructure investment The PBC called for significant resources for new infrastructure in 1999. The investments in water, electricity, transport and other infrastructure services begin to meet these objectives.
Increase in the education budget The PBC has called for a 3% real increase in the national education budget. Government has increased the education budget in recent years.
Land The increases for restitution are good, and broadly inline with suggested spending by the PBC. Land redistribution however falls significantly behind our projections for government to meet its modest goals of halving poverty and inequality.
Housing The strategic shift in policy towards integrated human settlements is enthusiastically supported by the PBC. However, low-income housing remains under funded in terms of realising the strategic shifts.
HIV/Aids The PBC has called for an integrated treatment and prevention plan and endorsed the proposals from the TAC. The recommitment of government and civil society to reaching a comprehensive treatment and prevention plan is eagerly anticipated by the PBC.
Expansion of social security Increasing access to the child support grant, moderate expansion of the Unemployment Insurance Fund coverage are important starts in extending social security to all South Africans.

Underlying these shifts in policy – which remain incomplete and contested – has been the growing levels of participation amongst different coalitions. In particular, the PBC has relied heavily on the Treatment Action Campaign and the BIG Coalition to develop its proposals on HIV/Aids and social security respectively. Less institutionalised links with the social movements have proven extremely important in shaping demands on free basic services. In important senses, the cross membership of members of the PBC in a wider set of coalitions has been the central and most important process towards building a multi-faceted process, of struggling for economic and social justice in South Africa.

The PBC has been effective in utilising the media to project its views. This is evidenced in dedicated morning news programmes on the PBC, and significant reporting in the media.


Taken together, fiscal policy still represents a modest redistributive instrument in South Africa. The PBC proposals on social security, land, and housing; as well as the proposals for increased spending could provide a significantly more redistributive stance aimed at a more equal society, and a society that is willing to tackle structural poverty. Thus, despite gains in several areas, a qualitative leap towards an effective and sustainable redistribution of resources in South Africa has not occurred.

The PBC aimed to have a strong advocacy and campaigning structure. The PBC however has not been able to effectively undertake mass mobilisation on issues surrounding the budget. Instead, and perhaps a proxy, the demands of the PBC have been taken up in COSATU Jobs and Poverty Campaign, anti-privatisation strikes and other campaigns. Tactically, it might be argued that organising on issues on the budget are unlikely to yield mass protest, due to the technical nature of the budgeting process.

Another challenge that remains is building economic literacy amongst civil society organisations. The PBC has undertaken many training programmes in attempting to widen analytical skills on the budget. However, the assumption that a cadre of civil society activist focussed on the budget would emerge has proven false. Mostly, this is due to the high turnover of staff in civil society organisation.


The PBC has played a role in developing alternatives in civil society, and indicated that a more redistributive stance from government is both possible and desirable in as highly unequal a society as South Africa. The question today is whether the model of the PBC still represents the most effective way to advance a redistributive agenda. The PBC has itself argued that a wider anti-poverty coalition that brings together the widest grouping of progressive organisations. This is an important recognition that challenging the structures of power that perpetuate poverty and inequality in our society, requires the rebuilding of strength in civil society. The time is right for an anti-poverty coalition that brings together all progressive organisations. Such a coalition would not only strengthen the work of existing campaigns, such as the Basic Income Grant and the People’s Budget Campaign, but also take the fight, much more formidably, to capital. Building an anti-poverty coalition gives practical expression to the ideal enshrined in the Freedom Charter.

* Ebrahim-Khalil Hassen is an independent policy analyst, currently undertaking research on public sector employment at the Employment, Growth and Development Initiative (EGDI) at the Human Sciences Research Council. He served as the head of secretariat for the People’s Budget Campaign from inception till 2006, as part of his responsibilities at the National Labour and Economic Development Institute (NALEDI).

May 21, 2007

Assessment of NPO ACT – January 2005

Filed under: Theorising Practice_May 2007 — newritings @ 1:06 pm


Copyright 2005, Department of Social Development, Pretoria, South Africa

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted without the permission of the copyright holder. Short extracts may be quoted, provided the source is fully acknowledged.


For much of the 1980s, Nonprofit Organisations (NPOs) had played a significant role in challenging the injustices of apartheid, and addressing the needs of vulnerable communities.

Recognising this, the South African Government enacted the Nonprofit Organisations Act 1997, (No 71 of 1997) as part of its intention to create an enabling environment for the nonprofit sector. This legislation was conceived as part of the project to transform society. It is a result of a lengthy process of policy and legislative reform initiated by government and negotiated with civil society organisations.

The NPO Act mandated the Department of Social Development to create an administrative and regulatory framework within organisations can conduct their affairs by providing a voluntary registration facility. It has been implemented for the last seven years since 1998. To date over 38 000 nonprofit organisations has been registered by the Department.

The process has not been easy, however, and many challenges have emerged. Some of these relate to the difficulties of monitoring an increasing number of NPOs, while attempting to ensure that public funds are well managed and safeguarded. Other challenges relate to the role of the NPO Directorate to enhance standards of good governance within the NPO sector, and promote greater benefits for NPOs. Various stakeholders have been discussing these pertinent issues in different forums. These discussions and issues raised have necessitated the need to assess the impact that the Act has made within the sector. It is good practice, and is in the interest of responsive, relevant and effective service delivery, that government legislations and policies be reviewed at regular intervals.

To this end, the Department of Social Development conducted an impact assessment on the NPO Act, to determine how it has affected the NPO sector in South Africa. An independent research consultancy, Umhlaba Development Services was contracted to conduct the study on behalf of the Department.

The Research was conducted between July and November 2004, and involved a national sampled survey of NPOs, as well as discussions with selected key government, civil society, and private sector stakeholders. Of particular significance, the study sought to respond to pertinent questions including: Has the registration contributed to a more enabling environment for the sector? Do the provisions of the Act and the work of the Directorate create an enabling administrative framework for the sector? What benefits have been derived from the implementation of the Act? These are but some of the questions that this study explored.

In carrying out the study, a Reference Group composed of key role players within the sector was formed to provide an important feedback mechanism throughout the different phases of the study. Our sincere gratitude goes to the members of this Reference Group and the organisations they represented.

These are: CBO Network (the South African Chapter of the Community Organising Regional Network), Charities Aid Foundation Southern Africa (CAFSA), Department of Agriculture: – Registrar of Cooperatives, South African Early Childhood Development Congress (SA ECD Congress), Legal Resource Centre (LRC), National Development Agency (NDA), Non-Profit Partnership (NPP), SA NGO Coalition (SANGOCO), Tax Exemption Unit of SARS, and Richard Rosenthal Attorneys. Organisations and individuals who took part in the various aspects of the study are also acknowledged for the immense contributions they have made to the success of this exercise.

The Department of Social Development foresees these recommendations from this study would lead to more efficient and effective interventions to enhance the ability of NPOs to operate effectively. Umhlaba Development Services (Umhlaba) was contracted by the Non-profit Organisations Directorate within the Department of Social Development to conduct a study in July 2004. The purpose of the study was to assess the impact of the NPO Act of 1997 on Non-profit Organisations in order to make recommendations in line with the findings of the Assessment, and the needs of the sector. The design of this assessment focused on determining the impact of the Act on NPOs, donors, and other agencies working with the non-profit environment through a research process. The research process utilised a combination of research methodologies, including a national telephone survey of NPOs, in-depth interviews, focus groups and case studies. In total the assessment conducted over 930 interviews with NPOs, government, donors, and other stakeholders. This assessment is therefore the largest study on this issue to date in South Africa, and offers an extensive information base for a variety of NPO stakeholders. The Telesurvey database may serve as an important baseline study for future longitudinal surveys and studies.

In order to assess the impact of the NPO Act on the NPO sector in South Africa, five key themes where drawn from the five objectives of the Act. These are:

(i) Creating an Enabling Environment

(ii) Establishing an administrative and regulatory framework within which NPOs can conduct their affairs

(iii) Encouraging NPOs to maintain standards of governance, transparency and accountability, and to improve those standards

(iv) Creating an environment within which the public may have access to information concerning registered organisations

(v) Promoting a spirit of co-operation and shared responsibility within government, donors and other interested persons. While the assessment found that government as a whole has become significant in its breadth of support and engagement with the NPO sector, the resources and implementation capacity for the NPO Act is severely lacking. The financial resources allocated for the implementation of the Act are insignificant when compared to the size, scope and vibrancy of the NPO sector on the one hand, and the complexity of the NPO Act on the other. The allocation of responsibility to a Directorate within the

Department of Social Development, and the limited financial resources made available to this Directorate, have – in the researchers’ opinion – constrained the potential impact of the Act. Given the enormous amounts of energy and input into the formation of the NPO Act, it is somewhat surprising that the overall impact of the Act has been uneven, and in some cases quite limited. The assessment has found that the impact of the Act has been high in the administrative and regulatory environment, somewhat less in the establishment and maintenance of standards in the NPO sector, and quite limited in the overall scope of government-donor-NPO relationships.

Of particular concern is the limited extent of awareness of, and engagement with, the NPO Act by a range of key stakeholders engaging with the Non-Profit environment. It is significant to note that the majority of funding organizations interviewed in this assessment do not require NPO registration in order to fund an organization. Similarly this assessment has found that national government departments are generally unaware of the content and prescripts of the NPO Act, and have structured their own engagement with NPOs without much impact from either the Act, or the NPO Directorate.

A clear limitation that has emerged from the assessment with respect to impact is the lack of clear definition of the benefits of NPO registration. The primary motivations for registration by NPOs has been because they thought it compulsory, from an expectation of increased funding, and the potential for taxation benefits. The assessment has found that in all respects the actual benefits accruing to NPOs have been limited, and those that have benefited have tended to be larger NPOs more often registered primarily as Section 21 Companies or Trusts.

In light of this, the sustainability of the impact of the NPO Act remains questionable over the longer term. If the benefits are unclear, and there is a continuation of limited engagement by a range of governmental and donor agencies, NPOs will reconsider the motivation for registering, especially in the face of the perceived administrative burden of registration and compliance.

Perception of enabling environment differs between categories of respondents. South African government departments, perhaps not surprisingly, feel that an enabling environment exists for NPOs in South Africa. They point to policy features that enhance the potential for NPO engagement in policy, planning, and implementation of government programmes, as well as enhanced opportunities of government funding of NPOs. In the main, donors feel that there is an enabling environment for NPOs in South Africa, although there is an important distinction in responses. Donor agencies that were established by the South African government were most likely to say that there is an enabling environment, while local South African grantmaking organizations (that work most directly with community based and grassroots organizations) were most likely to say that the environment is not enabling.

Most of the small, emergent Community Based Organisation (CBO) participants in this assessment felt that the environment for civil society participation in the general development arena in South Africa has improved. They point to a number of factors, including that the numbers of community-based organisations (CBOs) have increased since the introduction of the NPO Act, and some of the smaller community based organisations and structures have managed to acquire a more organised and formalised status.

The assessment has found the regulatory environment to be somewhat inconsistent and fractured, leading to a reduction in overall efficacy and impact of the NPO Act. Also, the assessment found clear problems with a “one size fits all” approach to NPOs inherent in the NPO Act. The assessment has found that the lack of recognition given to different categories of NPOs affects them in different ways.

Small emergent CBOs are often unable to meet the minimum standards set by the Act and the Directorate, and as a result struggle to maintain compliance. Larger, more sophisticated organisations feel the NPO registration adds to the administrative burden, while undermining their “blue chip” status with certain donors.

This assessment has found the benefits to NPOs to be limited, and that this is at odds with high expectations amongst NPOs. Smaller NPOs, especially CBOs, also bemoan the administrative burden of registration and compliance with the Act, and the overall cost of compliance. This point is somewhat reflected in the limited levels of narrative and financial reporting found in the survey of different types of NPOs, indicating a general difficulty amongst NPOs to meet their reporting requirements. Despite this, awareness of the NPO Act and the registration process is relatively high and increasing, and there are growing numbers of registered NPOs. This in itself reflects the emergence of a large number of localised, community-based structures established for public benefit. Administratively, the increase is creating further difficulties for the NPO Directorate, which is faced with capacity limitations.

A particularly striking feature of the NPO sector emerging from this assessment is the general lack of capacity within NPOs to manage their affairs, and to deliver quality services. This situation poses the greatest threat to efforts to maintain high standards across the sector. The NPO Directorate currently seeks to improve standards through the production of good practice guides and standardised templates, and through desktop monitoring of reports. While this assessment indicates that many NPOs appreciate these measures, and that they have incorporated some of these documents into their day-to-day functioning, a number of gaps and criticisms remain.

The assessment has found that the status of NPO registration, and the quality of organisational practice presumed, is widely questioned by a variety of NPO stakeholders. Donors, NPOs themselves, and government officials working with NPOs have expressed misgivings on the levels of compliance and standards of governance, operation and accountability within NPOs who have successfully registered. There is a general sense of limited practical implementation of good practice guidelines by the NPOs themselves. A particular feature that has emerged relates to poor standards in financial reporting. There is a need to address this weakness, and to step up monitoring. Enforcing compliance to minimum standards of financial management is necessary if NPO registration is to be considered as being meaningful. This poses a huge challenge, not only for the Directorate, but also for the entire sector and its stakeholders. It is imperative that some form of coordinated monitoring of compliance to basic standards and documenting of good practice is developed for the sector, especially across the various registration procedures and legal identities There seems to be a general consensus amongst all stakeholders that the current collation and dissemination of information is inadequate. Consistent criticism has been directed through the assessment at the current form of information gathering and collation, and the way this information is made available. The current information system seems adequate specifically for the purposes of registration, but seems to offer limited opportunity to provide more significant monitoring data. A specific area of concern to many NPOs, especially in the health and welfare sector, is a perceived lack of transparency with regard to the awarding of grants to NPOs. The key concern in this respect relates to the perceived potential for inappropriate awards of grants, and perceptions of potential corruption.

This weakness is indicative of the general lack of integration of information management across departments and provinces with regard to NPOs and the NPO sector, which presents a clear challenge to a comprehensive approach to NPOs from government.

The assessment has found the role of the NPO Directorate to be limited in building partnerships between government, donors, and NPO networks. There has been significant criticism from national NPO networks in particular, who allege that the Directorate has in effect circumvented them in their activities with NPOs. A critical component of cooperation is the synchronisation of procedures and programmes between departments, especially with registration and disbursement schedules. This often has adverse effects on NPOs. Of particular concern is the lack of provincial coordination regarding NPO programmes and regulation.

Given the findings of the assessment, three primary recommendations have been made. Specific recommendations for additional measures related to each of these recommendations are made in the report.

Recommendation 1: Minister to Address the Fragmented Regulatory Framework.

The Minister should facilitate a process to assess and align relevant legislation, to allow for an integrated regulatory framework that allows for consistency within the legal framework for registering NPOs. This will require high-level political facilitation between the relevant Ministries for Trade and Industry, Justice, and Finance, as well as SARS.

Recommendation 2: Revise the Act to Allow for Differentiated NPO Registration.

The NPO Act should be revised to allow for registration of different categories of NPOs, which recognises different levels of capacity amongst NPOs. This will allow for more targeted programmes from government, civil society actors and donors, and would set appropriate standards for different NPOs in place.

Recommendation 3: Allocate Sufficient Resources and Capacity for the Implementation of the NPO Act.

The South African government should commit much greater resources for the overall implementation of the NPO Act. In the immediate term, this would require a significant increase in the current budget and human resource capacity for the efficient implementation and administration of the Act within the Department of Social Development. This will require immediate availability of resources to address severe capacity constraints within the Directorate, and to address backlogs with regard to applications.



Project Leader: Dave Husy

Project Co-ordinator Rayna Taback

Researchers: Farah Hassim

Thwadi Komani

Lilo Du Toit

Research Assistant: Eddie Plaatjie

Field Workers Maggie Kgatshe

Bongiwe Mtshali

Rosaria Mukonyora

Sammy Kgoahla

Memory Chiyangwa

Mapula Thindisa

Specialist Advisors: Prof. Ran Greenstein

Christa Kuljian

May 20, 2007

Putting Civil Society on the Map – or Mapping Civil Society for Development

Filed under: Theorising Practice_May 2007 — newritings @ 1:04 pm


The unprecedented growth of civil society organisations at local, national, regional and global levels over the last decade and a half has been widely documented. Civil society organisations (CSOs) are critical actors in the daily life of communities around the world, and a vibrant CSO sector has a critical democratising impact at all levels of society. So profound is its impact that authors like Putnam and others argue that the vibrancy of civil society can be taken as a reliable indicator for public sector responsiveness and economic growth. Our own recent history is testimony to civil society’s contribution to political democracy and our current reality begs the question “is CS playing a role in stabilising our democracy and how does it impact on the political and economic?”

With civil society playing such a critical role, why then do we know so little about what is happening in the sector? So sparse is our knowledge that we are at times quite dismissive of the sector or only take note of the more vocal and well-resourced organisations. The lack of reliable information continues to undermine the true worth let alone engagement with the sector. This gap impedes our intelligence and more specifically our “social intelligence” while we trudge along a certain political and economic trajectories with great uncertainty.

It is in this context and perceived need that Inkanyezi GuideStar was initiated as an effort to start clarifying, understanding and illuminating the role of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).

The project aims to build a national inclusive database to strengthen CSOs and help promote transparent, accountable and responsive governance in our sector. Inkanyezi Guide Star is a registered non profit organization, and a member of SANGOCO and was founded by leading founding organizations as SANGOCO, the Round up Foundation, and CORN Gauteng, who also sit on its board.

Simply put we must begin with, we need to know who’s who in the zoo – who does what, why and who does nothing!

Civil Society

Civil Society is characterised by such a wide diversity of organisations of different shapes and sizes across the social, political and economic spectrum of society. These range from issue and faith based organisations, soup kitchens, charities, traditional socio-cultural organisation, societies and clubs (from sports/ games to cultural – both formal and informal), professional organisations and a host of other social forms of organisations working tirelessly to weave and reweave our social fabric.

Literature on the subject hypothesise that this sector plays an important role in societal change and stability that is critical for a functioning democracy. It also acknowledges that it is critical for the nurturing and formation of social capital and social cohesion that is important for a healthy society in social, political and economic terms. Robert Putnam [1] and others go so far as to argue that the vibrancy of the sector is a much more reliable indicator for economic prosperity and public sector responsiveness. Arguments and studies abound, we know civil society organisations’ are widespread and everywhere and it is difficult to conceive a society without social forms of organisations. It would be like imagining earth without gravity!

The facts and the figures

The only comprehensive study on the sector done by the John Hopkins university in 2002 on ‘The Size and Scope of the Nonprofit Sector in South Africa” [2] concluded that there were about 100,000 [3] CSOs with a combined operating expenditure of R 9.3 billion, representing 1.2% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. The study also revealed that the sector employs more than 600,000 people, more than a number of major economic sectors. What the figures are today can only be guesstimated.

The Department of Social Development has more than 40 000 registered Non-profit organisations of which plus minus 80% are community-based organisations. The Department of Trade and Industry has less than 10 000 registered Section 21 not-for-profit companies. The total number of estimated registered organisation stands at about 50 000 organisations. [4] In addition, it is anyone’s guess about how many unregistered social forms of organisations are operating inside and outside the social domain and what they doing on the social fabric. With more about 50 000 registered CSOs and another unknown thousands more, the need to know in order to develop our social intelligence is long overdue and more than urgent to understand the tapestry of our social fabric.

The Challenge

The proliferation of CSOs does raise a major challenge for those who engage with them, be they potential partners, corporate social investors, institutional grant-makers, individual donors, those setting tax, disclosure and regulatory policies for CSOs, direct beneficiaries, those seeking CSO expertise on a particular issue, or other CSOs and those seeking to invest and create a better world through corporate social investment. These decision-makers are asking: How do you know with which CSO to engage? How can you tell if CSOs are successful in achieving the objectives they set for themselves? How do we know our giving is making a real difference, How do you know if similar services are already being provided by other organisations in the area? How can you tell that all communities and critical issues are being effectively served by CSOs? How do you know if financial and other resources are being allocated effectively? How do you find other CSOs that are facing operating or strategic issues that are similar to those your own CSO faces? Who do we speak to?

The need to engage civil society organisations in an informed, pro-active and enabling way is a challenge confronting many decision-makers in the public, private and civil society sector today. Reporting and Transparency that are core values for the sector, is crucial to ensure that the work of this vital sector is enabled, efficient, effective, economic and accountable.

And by making the work of CSOs transparent, over time, iGS aims to:

  • enable CSOs to be more visible, accountable and effective
  • strengthen the internal and external reporting framework of CSOs and thereby establishing reporting and accounting as an organisational practice
  • assist in establishing compelling models for transparency for all national institutions,
  • reveal the uses of donor funds (government/public and private) that flow increasingly through CSOs and importantly its impact
  • promote a vibrant, democratic and resourceful civil society
  • enable stakeholders to consistently tract over a time period the existence, growth and impact of particular or groups of civil society organisations

Inkanyezi GuideStar and International Collaboration

The GuideStar model was developed by GuideStar International to stimulate the growth of social intelligence about civil society. GSI’s aim is to support the development of GuideStar systems to illuminate the work of civil society organizations throughout the world. The iGS initiative is modeled on existing successful systems in the US and the UK and is being implemented in over eight developed and developing countries. It was developed to help decision-makers find answers to these and other pertinent questions, to help effective and generous philanthropy and volunteerism and help ensure a vibrant, resourceful and accountable civil society.

Given the South African environment that encourages active civic participation, philanthropy and voluntarism and recognises the value of transparency, Inkanyesi is in an excellent position to realise the same tangible benefits of such a system.

How will it work?

A GuideStar provides a detailed, online catalogue of reports of all CSOs in a country, enabling them to communicate their work effectively and easily to national and international audiences. The data for the system is derived from available government sources as well as information submitted directly online by the CSOs themselves. As in the US and UK, information reported to each national GuideStar system will originate both from digitized government filings and qualitative information entered directly online by CSOs themselves. The resulting displayed CSO information is entirely self-reported and not evaluated by any third party. While financial information is reported, the data framework generally is more focused upon institutional development and performance versus objectives and impact. The integrity of the reporting relies entirely upon its transparency, and admittedly marks only the first phase of accountability. Our view is however, that for any organization that wants to go to the process to place all the organizations details for public scrutiny whilst not a panacea for the ills of our sector – will mark a change and making those seeking to fund the sector more willing to engage, and support a sector in a seemingly permanent funding crisis.

Upon deployment, users will be able to both input data through a simple yet robust interface and search the database using various criteria. Search results and display pages will present both narrative and financial information on the activities of CSOs. The system also includes back-office features for uploading bulk data, integrating with existing online databases, and tracking/verifying the source of data entering the system.

One of the main features of the system is the Global Reporting Framework, an online interface that allows individual CSOs to log in and provide either initial information on their activities or information to enhance an existing government record. The GRF allows CSOs of any size an opportunity to explain their work and demonstrate their transparency to the public. In addition to filling in fields on their operations and programs, CSOs can also upload documents of various formats, including annual reports, press releases, photographs, and copies of government submissions.

To overcome the digital divide and encourage greater participation in the information society, iGS aims to introduce innovative approaches to integrate information technology with activities of organizations at a local level. An example is to hold local CSO accountability weeks in collaboration with local or regional networks of organisations. The intention is to encourage greater reporting and accountability not only vertically to donors, but also horizontally to peers – sister organizations.Through this, CSOs will not only be the subject of interest and research, but also will as bearers of information, start making sense of their own existence and vitality.

Governing Principles

In order to deliver the expected benefits, the basic principles governing the development of this platform will be followed:

  • The system will be a national asset;
  • It will enable participation of all civil society organisations regardless of size or other limiting characteristics;
  • It will not be evaluative or judgmental;
  • Information will be accessible to the public at no cost;
  • It will be operated on a non-profit basis;
  • Value-added services will be provided atop the basic information;
  • Its open platform will enable other intermediaries to offer additional tools and services to their specific audiences;
  • The system will enable transparency and accountability in the sector; and
  • The system will be responsive to the needs of the sector and create opportunities to elevate the work of smaller CSOs in particular;
  • Hopefully encourage peer review and support from within the sector

The Value Proposition for Stakeholders

The IGS public platform will add tremendous value to the programme work of a wide range of stakeholders. Listed below are some of the desirable consequences specific to the work of various actors:

  • Donors and institutional funders will identify, compare, gain confidence and give more generously to CSOs whose work resonates with their personal values.
  • The managers and trustees of CSOs will identify similar organisations to establish best practice, new partnerships and networks for purposes of collaboration and comparison, or to inform new market entry or exit strategies.
  • Through greater CSO reporting and accountability, enable the self-regulatory ability of the sector
  • Researchers and policy makers will map activity by CSOs and thereby gain a greater understanding of the actual workings, opportunities and needs of civil society and be able to develop a composite picture of civil society and the impact of its work.
  • Government oversight agencies and departments will access previously unavailable data to further their fiduciary and service delivery objectives and be better informed in their planning and budgeting functions;
  • Government departments responsible for regulation could use the information to create a more enabling regulatory environment and, perhaps pre-empt more intrusive regulatory strategies;
  • Volunteers, professionals and other contractors who work with charities will be better able to provide useful input to their CSO clients;
  • Third party organisations will utilise GuideStar information to support value-added services and research for specific audiences;


The Inkanyezi GuideStar initiative provides a unique opportunity to develop more reliable information on the sector to make intelligently sense of what is happening and not happening. iGS will make a significant contribution to elevate and illuminate the work of thousands of CSOs as well as creating the opportunity for them to showcase their good work to the public, and in so doing, enabling the internalization of reporting and establishing best practices in accountability. In addition, the platform will also enrich the work of a variety of stakeholders as well as stimulating private and public funding on an equitable basis. We believe that the initiative will make a significant contribution to understanding the contribution of civil society in enriching the lives of thousands of organisations. Lastly, the success of the initiative is dependent on our outreach to CSOs, their willingness to share public information and the degree to which stakeholders use it to advance their work and strengthen civil society.

* Conrad Jardine, Project Manager

This article includes the comments from wide range of people working on IGS including GuideStar International.

[1] Putnam,R. (1993). Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy. Princeton University Press.

[2] Swilling, M. & Rusell, B. (2002). The Size & Scope of Nonprofit Sector in South Africa. University of Witswatersrand and University of Natal. This research was part of John Hopkins comparative Non-profit Sector Project.

[3] This figure also includes social organisations like burial societies, stokvels (saving clubs) and others that would generally not register as non-profit organisations

[4] These figures are rounded and are based on data obtained mid 2006 and takes into consideration double countingthose registered as NPO’s and S21 not for profit companies. Only trusts that are registered as such are including in this figure

May 19, 2007

The Dearth of Civil Society

Filed under: Theorising Practice_May 2007 — newritings @ 11:37 am

Mr. Masondo sir, well done! You have truly achieved in making Johannesburg a ‘world class city’ and now, because of the great infrastructure and in spite of the incompetent police and the high crime rates, all the international non-governmental organizations that are in the business of saving Africa have headquartered here.

But you know, your Worship, you would not know that you were in Africa walking into one of those INGO offices. Sure there is the Johannesburg street address, the token African art in reception but that is the sum of all that is South African. No. I lie. Sometimes these international organizations even have a head that is from this country but sir, the neck; the torso and sometimes even the thighs are international (read from Western Europe or North America). The only other African thing in these organizations are the knees and feet as embodied by the receptionists and the cleaners and, if we are lucky, some lowly so-called associates all earning less than a dollar a day. One wonders whether in this world class African city, these well-meaning International NGOs could not find some world-class employees too. I mean really Mr. Mayor, a Policy and Advocacy Officer on HIV/AIDS from Surrey when we have unemployed graduates from Soweto who have seen their mothers and siblings die from the disease?

But they are not always ignorant of Africa and its plight, these great Western expatriates saving Africa. Even if they are staying in Sandton, drinking in Melville, and have never been to Alex, sometimes they genuinely try to get the locals involved. Like the other time I was working for one of them as a lowly associate and they knew I also worked on a voluntary basis with a CBO (Community Based Organisation). It was me they came to for profiles of grandmothers who were guardians to HIV orphans (preferably staying in the world-famous Soweto) for a program on CNN. I was happy to know they cared. I drew up profiles. They chose one grandmother and guess what? She was seen by the whole world on an international platform in Scotland at the G8. A grandmother I had picked nogal. Needless to say after she returned home, she went back to the CBO for her monthly rations for her orphaned grandchildren and the International NGO has never asked of her since. But one should not complain. After all, the world needs to know these things.

Incidentally Mr. Mayor, I cannot say for sure, but I believe this INGO might have received some funding from this situation. Funds that were used for greater good like paying for travel and accommodations so spokespersons of the International NGO can tell the world of this woman and other similar stories. These funds also probably came in handy for a little donation to the Nelson Mandela Foundation so the great statesman could donate a quote in return to be used for full-page advertisements in important publications like New York Times because sir, the world has to umm…know.

But I do not mean to be cynical about our saviours from the West, Sir, after all, where would our own civil society organizations be without these international CSOs? It is after all these international CSOs that are willing to pay wicked amounts of money to the home-brewed CSOs to go on international platforms and mouth whatever it is they want us to say. The World Social Forums, the WTOs – they will pay for it all if we know our place and repeat the lines that we are told by the policy & advocacy officers on poverty, ‘poverty kills a child every three seconds,’ ‘1.2 billion live on less than a dollar a day’ or whatever they want us to say. Ask them for funding to feed children at a rally however and you will get, ‘we can pay for everything but we do not pay for food.’ Hellloo? You want a crowd at a rally but you won’t feed the multitudes? Of course it is then that South African CSOs come up with creative ways of making sure the bill for an advert/fliers/whatever it is they will pay for is high enough so that eventually the food can be covered. It is deceitful. May be even a little corrupt. It might even seem like some form of colonization, Mr. Mayor, but really, how different is it from the dance your government plays with donor nations and Bretton Woods Institutions (World Bank and the International Monetary Fund) and also the World Trade Organisation?

As you can see, dealing with these International NGOs, it generally leaves South African CSOs unable to speak about the real bread and butter issues in South Africa (well unless it is about HIV/AIDS; they will always fund for that!). This may just be one of the reasons our once thriving civil society is in shambles, failing to address the issues of the people of this country that it should really be addressing.

But wait a minute Mr. Mayor, could that have been your government’s plan all along to ensure that civil society in the country was kept very civil? To create a world-class city, and get INGOs here so they can distract South African civil society from addressing important issues like, ‘why the bucket system is not fully scrapped’ or ‘when our people can expect to have proper housing.’ Now these voices have been muted because they do not have the funding to cause enough of a ruckus and as the INGOs often say, ‘you have to have a global perspective’ and Johannesburg or even South Africa is not global enough, is it? You are a genius, Sir. You, and your government.

* By Zukiswa Wanner

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