Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge officially opens the Inyathelo Civil Society Sustainability Centre

On Tuesday evening Inyathelo and The Atlantic Philanthropies hosted a joint reception to celebrate the official launch of the Inyathelo Civil Society Sustainability Centre. The event featured a panel discussion on philanthropic investments in the built enviroment. Panelists included Prof Brian O'Connell (Former Vice Chancellor, University of the Western Cape), Louise Driver (CEO, Children's Hospital Trust), Russell Ally (Executive Director, Alumni and Development, University of Cape Town), Tracey Henry (CEO, Tshikululu Social Investment) and Albie Sachs (Former Constitutional Court Judge). After the panel discusion, Inyathelo's new Executive Director, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, officially opened the centre with these remarks.

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge officially opens the Inyathelo Civil Society Sustainability Centre

The late Nelson Mandela repeatedly acknowledged the critical role civil society played in securing South Africa’s democracy. Even after he was inaugurated as the country’s first black, democratically-elected President, he continued to stress the vital and ongoing need for a strong and independent sector – which filled the spaces between the state, market and family - to protect the rights of all citizens and hold government to account.

The Inyathelo Civil Society hub was built with the generous support of Atlantic Philanthropies to provide a home for the rich network of non-profit and community-based organisations that form the bedrock of social cohesion and citizen action in South Africa. It is the first and only space of its kind in Africa and offers a comprehensive range of largely free resources, training, support, mentorship and advice services to ensure the long term sustainability and independence of our sector, and in turn, the vibrancy and durability of our hard-won democracy. Already, since we opened our doors in January this year, we have had nearly a thousand visitors representing nearly 500 different non-profit organisations, higher education institutions, foundations, government agencies and departments, corporates, trusts and philanthropic endeavours.

Over the past decade, Inyathelo has played a key role in building the Advancement capacity of thousands of non-profits as well as growing a strong local philanthropic movement to ensure the financial sustainability of the sector. With the continued support of you, our friends, family, partners and colleagues, we will be able to assist many more non-profits and higher education institutions as well as nurture new ideas and fledgling organisations that are being formed in response to the changing needs and threats to social justice in South Africa.

Special thanks must go to The Atlantic Philanthropies for their vision and willingness to build Inyathelo and South African civil society this beautiful home in which we can share, recharge, innovate, learn, teach, support and strengthen.

Mathew Bishop, the New York Bureau Chief of The Economist recently acknowledged how Mr Charles Feeney and his colleagues at The Atlantic have become adept at achieving leverage by identifying when a physical infrastructure can help lift an institution or organization to a higher level of impact and how to use it to recruit other funders and even drive systemic change. As Bishop put it, “investing in buildings is really about betting big on the people who will lead and make use of them.” I want to thank The Atlantic Philanthropies for “betting big” on Inyathelo and believing in our capacity to deliver systemic change.

As part of our exhibition this evening, there are 14 photographs representing some of the other capital projects that The Atlantic have supported in South Africa. The photographs are from the publication, “Laying Foundations for Change: Capital Investments of The Atlantic Philanthropies”, which you will receive as a gift when you leave this evening.

The Atlantic Philanthropies have also donated a number of Jürgen Schadeberg prints. As most of you know, Schadeberg was the chief photographer at Drum Magazine for many years and documented pivotal moments and key figures in the struggle against apartheid. He was an early practitioner of social documentary photography in South Africa, along with Omar Badsha whose work is also represented on our walls. If you have not yet visited Omar Badsha’s amazing exhibition: Seedtime: An Omar Badsha Retrospective at the Iziko South African National Gallery, I would urge you to do so soon before the 2nd of August.

Much of the craftwork you will find in the centre comes from the Keiskamma Art Project which uses art and craft as a way of generating much-needed income for the communities in and around Hamburg in the Eastern Cape. And the beautiful panels at the back of this auditorium also tell a social story. The designs, called “Lifelines” by Jane Solomon, are artistic representations of HIV on a molecular level.

I believe that artists and creative people are very much part of an active civil society. They tell stories of people who often don’t have a voice, and provide a mirror as well as a critical voice in society. I hope you all enjoy discovering the many South African stories told on the walls of our centre this evening.

The Inyathelo Civil Society hub is a great space for us to work together to rebuild, re-envision and re-imagine a strong civil society sector, ensuring a vibrant democracy through active citizenship. We often think of leadership only in terms of those holding political power, the government and political parties. While indeed these sectors hold immense power, they constitute only a small fraction of those who ensure our society works, despite politics. Earlier this year, Inyathelo and Tshikululu Social Investments jointly hosted a dialogue bringing together Business and University leaders to discuss leadership for South Africa. As observed by Eusebius McKaiser at the dialogue, South Africa is “experiencing neither a chronic nor systemic lack of leadership. Many areas of civil society, business, religion, education and some government sectors operate under guidance of experienced and successful leaders who accomplish both the necessary and the exceptional with vision and resolve.”2

Our constitution lays the foundation for us to:

  • * Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
  • * Build a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
  • * Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
  • * Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

We can work together to create an environment that encourages all sectors of our society; including universities, business and government, to work together. The different sectors in society have a role in creating that long-term vision and to grow and shepherd the competencies that will achieve it.

[2]Suttner (2015) “What type of leadership do we need to reinforce democracy and build an emancipatory project?” in Polity.org.za; page 2.