Inyathelo in the Media

Celebrating heroes of a civil society sector, estimated at R40-billion

NGO representatives at Inyathelo

Over 100 representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and nonprofit organisations (NPOs) gathered at Inyathelo’s Civil Society Hub in Woodstock, Cape Town, to mark World NGO Day on Tuesday 27 February.

The universal concept of World NGO Day is to celebrate, commemorate and collaborate. It’s a day to honour the people who contribute to society, inspire people to become more actively involved within the NGO sector, and encourage greater interaction between NGOs and the public and private sectors.

Keynote speaker Fatima Shabodien, a South African social justice leader, said an NGO is often seen as a formal group, but in reality it is “a coalescing around social issues for the greater good, where the goal is to achieve a social or political objective.”

Social justice leader Fatima Shabodien, keynote speaker on World NGO Day. Shabodien estimated that total operating expenditure of South African NPOs is currently worth R40 billion, based on sector growth since Professor Mark Swilling of Wits University undertook a landmark study in 2002. Total operating expenditure of South African NPOs was R9.3 billion in 1998/99, 1.2% of GDP. The work of 1.5 million volunteers was then worth R5.1 billion.

She urged StatsSA to track the current size and scope of the sector.

Shabodien distinguished between NGOs that are service organisations, and social justice organisations. “Service organisations are doing what the state should be doing, they step into a vacuum and respond to the manifestation of a crisis, such as gender-based violence. Otherwise, the impact would be irreversible in many cases.”

Social justice organisations, on the other hand, “ask the harder questions”, engage in advocacy, and address the root causes of a problem.

“These two types of organisations live on the spectrum, as conditions in South African communities are dire. It’s useful to consider where your work is located – addressing the manifestation of the crisis, or the structural drivers?”

Shabodien said that when South Africa became a democracy, there was international solidarity for NGOs and considerable funding was available. South Africa is now considered a middle income democracy, and overseas donations have diminished.

Exacerbating this NGO funding crisis, health and humanitarian funding was channelled via NGOs during the Covid-19 pandemic, yet NGOs themselves did not receive additional financial aid from the state, she said.

Acknowledging the positive role of corporate social responsibility foundations, Shabodien urged companies to take additional steps, such as increasing salaries of lower income workers, who are often women heading single parent households.

She also urged NGOs, in turn, to examine “internal contradictions” such as sexism, racism and nepotism within their own organisations and on their boards. “We need to maintain a critical lens and identify what is wrong in the sector, ourselves, before it is done by anyone else.”

Concluding her remarks, she reminded guests that South Africa is “recognised and revered” for its civil society work. “People are in awe of South Africa. We are very critical of ourselves and often focus on what is wrong with our sector. But we remain one of the most vibrant and densely organised civil society sectors in the world.

“We are an activist nation, and this tradition is deeply rooted in our DNA.”

Feryal Domingo, acting executive director of Inyathelo, thanked sector partners who provided support and access to information on World NGO Day. These included the Department of Social Development’s NPO Directorate, the SA Revenue Service, Phambano Technology Development Centre, which specialises in technology capacity-building in civil society organisations, and NPOwer, a mental health support programme and helpline established by the SA Depression and Anxiety Group.

Abdul Raof Ryklief, Deputy Director: Institutional Capacity Building, Department of Social Development.Abdul Raof Ryklief, Deputy Director: Institutional Capacity Building, Department of Social Development, thanked Inyathelo: “In the past there were several events that brought NGOs together across various activities, to share notes and spaces, but those have not taken place in recent times. World NGO Day, hosted by Inyathelo, is to my knowledge the only event that brings NGOs together across various activities to celebrate successes and to network.”

There were 280 329 NGOs registered with the Department of Social Development at end-September 2023. Inyathelo, established in 2002, helps other NGOs to build capacity and ensure their long-term sustainability.


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