The State of the NPO and Civil Society Sector in South Africa

by Nazli Abrahams, Programme Director, Inyathelo

The post-apartheid years, which saw the growth of civil society organisations funded primarily by foreign donors, have given way to an NPO sector that has to look inward to grow and sustain itself. The opportunity to build a democracy founded on what many have called the most inclusive and liberal constitution in the world initially attracted support, funding and commitment from across the globe. However, after more than two decades, it is inevitable that the world will turn its focus from South Africa as it expects to see the achievement of a healthy democracy at the tip of Africa.

At present, as South Africa wavers on the brink of massive shifts politically, economically, and socially (and a marker of that shift is an increasingly widening gap between the rich and poor), and faces an ever more voluble populace tired of waiting for the promises of 1994 to be fulfilled, investor confidence is vacillating and with it we are losing the sense of our country as a secure option for philanthropic investment.

Current conditions in the country are forcing potential investors to adopt a wait-and-see approach which is detrimentally impacting on civil society organisations (one just needs to watch the ‘yo-yo-ing’ of the rand if one is not convinced). Coupled with the continued withdrawal of foreign funding, this has created a precarious space for civil society as uncertain funding puts current programmes at risk and jeopardises the ability to implement future work. This is further exacerbated by the persistent threat from government to institute punitive measures that will curtail the activities of civil society organisations that do not ‘toe the government line’.

Working to strengthen civil society organisations has become even more critical than ever. Inyathelo’s work with the non-profit sector will need to both expand and deepen as the predicament in this sector potentially worsens. A key aspect is our capacity-building work, aimed at addressing the issues around financial sustainability for social development projects and organisations.

Strategies have been created to target these through our NPO clinic. The advisory, mentorship and coaching services are available to organisations on matters of Advancement and fundraising, ranging from legal and tax compliance, governance, strategy and planning, organisational structure to enhance advancement, financial systems and management, fundraising and donor management, project and programme implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

In our organisation, we have followed a financial sustainability strategy which is founded on several elements:

  • Income generation – a mixed social entrepreneurial model to generate additional income;
  • A diversified donor base to reduce our dependency on the number of donors and to increase our local donor base;
  • Establishing and continually investing in a reserve fund; and
  • Investing wisely in long-term investments to enhance returns.

These factors have enabled Inyathelo to move towards a degree of self-sustainability that has, in turn, enabled us to champion the start of programmes, projects and partnerships.

Despite the challenges facing our sector, we look forward to strengthening civil society’s role in democracy, capacitating higher education to ensure that it sustains our country’s intellectual development, and empowering a culture of philanthropy.

This is the first NGO analysis of my #NGOs4Africa Campaign.

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