by Shanil Haricharan.
"We, the people of South Africa" - the first words in the preamble of our constitution - is an unequivocal declaration that the constitution derives its authority from the people of South Africa. Our constitutional democracy is grounded on informed citizens actively participating through the various institutions mandated in the constitution. A vibrant democracy requires citizens to organise themselves through civil society structures.
It was these formations that made a profound contribution to the demise of apartheid. However, during the past 20 years, civil society organisations have faced many challenges. In spite of these hurdles, a number of organisations and their leaders continue to play a significant role in giving voice to the people and advancing our democracy.
This column gives voice to these outstanding leaders and their exemplary organisations. To move civil society forward, stalwart activist Shelagh Gastrow created the non-profit trust, the South African Institute for Advancement - Inyathelo, in 2002. The organisation works to sustain and strengthen civil society organisations and grow local giving in support of a vibrant democracy. It works through developing effective grant-seeking and grantmaking practices, and building capacity in the higher education and non-profit sectors in South Africa, and on the African continent. Gastrow once wisely observed that in a "constitutional democracy, civil society organism tions are the immune system".
To take forward Inyathelo's exceptional work, the indomitable Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge was appointed as the executive director in mid-June. Her illustrious journey in building the capacity of civil society will serve the organisation well.
The KwaZulu-Natal-born activist has come full circle; starting as a community, political and gender activist in the 1980s and early 1990s, to formal politics as a parliamentarian and the deputy minister of health and defence from 1994 to 2009. During the early 1990s, I had the opportunity to work with her in the ANC, civic and other community structures on the Durban North coast.
Her strong conviction in "mobilising the people" and building civil society movements led to her return to the grassroots. In her words: "I was called to Parliament as I was called into the Struggle. Now my calling is to work with civil society.
"We have an important role of raising awareness and building a cohesive voice within civil society so that the state takes us seriously" Last week, Nozizwe chaired a civil society dialogue at Inyathelo, based in Woodstock, on the current threats to Chapter Nine constitutional institutions like the public protector and how the non-profit sector could strengthen and support these vital institutions.
An attack on such constitutional institutions is a violation of the will of the people. "The founding fathers and mothers of our constitution foresaw that power has the ability to corrupt, and had the insight to protect and defend the constitution by including institutions such as those in Chapter Nine", Nozizwe tells me.
She was a member of the Constituent Assembly that drafted the final constitution.
Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of our constitution. Over the past seven years, prior to joining Inyathelo, Nozizwe has been immersed in a number of initiatives such as supporting the formation of the African Women's Peace Table, which is a partnership forum for integrating women's perspectives on issues of peace and security in Africa, and Democracy from Below, a grass-roots movement to strengthen participation in our democracy Her lifelong interest in human and women's rights drew her to the marginalisation and plight of women in prostitution, leading to the creation of Embrace Dignity.
The organisation seeks a better understanding of prostitution from a broader point of view: the life conditions of those in prostitution, the foundations of which are patriarchy, class, gender and inequality The organisation advocates for laws that recognise the harm of prostitution and supports those caught in it to exit - 80 percent yearn to exit. As prostitution is a global problem and linked to human trafficking and organised crime, Nozizwe serves as a nonexecutive director on the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW International).
Her contribution to deepening and advancing the constitution in building a democratic nation has been rewarded; she is a recipient of the Tanenbaum Peacemakers Award, an honorary doctorate from Haverford College, Pennsylvania, and a human rights award from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Nozizwe brings her astute leadership to the numerous initiatives at Inyathelo. Her enthusiasm shines through as she speaks about a key pillar of their mission: local philanthropy This initiative helps to increase corporate and individual social giving. Inyathelo promotes dialogue and provides support services to facilitate philanthropic ventures that have a lasting impact. The local philanthropic move ment is viewed as "rooted in the African cultural heritage of sharing - the basis of ubuntu".
"Individual giving is becoming the biggest combined source of donor money in South Africa, and philanthropists are playing a critical role in addressing our many social problems," Nozizwe points out.
In recognition of the many remarkable individuals who have contributed their private resources in supporting socio-economic development and building a stronger civil society, Inyathelo hosts an annual philanthropy Awards celebration. This year's annual awards will be held in Cape Town on November 5. The Philanthropy Award has recognised 93 individuals over the past eight years.
These are not necessarily wealthy individuals. For instance, Alice Wamundiya, a Rwandan refugee who fled the genocide in 1995, worked as a car guard, sharing her meagre earnings with her family and the refugee community in Cape Town. She formed the non-profit organisation Unity for Tertiary Refugee Students. Her efforts were recognised and rewarded with the 2012 Inyathelo Award for Social Justice Philanthropy.
In light of the current widespread student protests at our universities relating to student fees, the excellent example of Dr Saleem Badat's generosity and commitment to building our democracy caught my attention. On his appointment as the vicechancellor (VC) at Rhodes University (RU), Badat relinquished benefits such as flying business class and executive accommodation, redirecting these savings and part of his salary to the Jakes Gerwel Rhodes University Scholarship Fund in 2006 (his annual salary package was R1.6 million).
Today the salary of VCs ranges between R2.4m and R4m per annum. The fund benefits matriculants from historically disadvantaged communities in the Eastern Cape to full scholarships to university education. Since the fund's inception, he has contributed over R1.2m. His leadership influenced others at RU and Old Mutual to contribute to the fund. In 2008, he received the Inyathelo Exceptional Award for his progressive leadership and actions in inspiring social giving and beneficial change. In his award acceptance speech, he expressed his "passion for developing our society".
"I think supporting children and youth from those (Eastern Cape) family backgrounds creates a sense that democracy can work... If we don't create those opportunities, then Ifeel that we are going to be an unstable society in which the masses of our people feel that this democracy is only for the wealthy and the rich... I think in that context, philanthropy becomes really important."
This inspirational leader has thrown down the gauntlet to other VCs. We don't need to wait for superstar economist Thomas Piketty's favoured introduction of a wealth tax to start giving. Many among us have the means to emulate the admirable nationbuilding leadership presented here. A robust civil society is the only way to defend the gains of our people's struggles over the past 350 years and to realise the noble goals of our constitution. "We, the people of South Africa" have the opportunity and duty to build a non-racial, just and caring South African nation.