24October

South Africa NPOs play critical role. By Nazli Abrahams - Cape Times

Nazli Abrahams, Programme Director at Inyathelo, the South Africa Institute for Advancement, wrote this letter to the editor of the Cape Times in response to the Lorenzo Davids op-ed piece

South Africa NPOs play critical role. By Nazli Abrahams - Cape Times

The chief executive of Community Chest South Africa, Lorenzo Davids, had a serious swipe at the non-profit or charitable sector last week, accusing them of "muddled thinking" and a lack of transformation and willingness to change.

He even went as far to say that NPOs are "selling misery, not solutions", and producing no tangible diference despite the R31billion spent on the sector last year (NGOs need new mindset to work, Cape Times, October 17).

But change doesn't happen in a vacuum and blaming non-profits for the lack of progress on poverty, crime, homelessness and unemployment is a little like shooting the messenger.

The system is broken, not the NPO sector.

If anything, non-profits are instruments of change and play a crucial role in helping government fulfil its constitutional mandate by providing nearly 70% of the welfare services in South Africa.

The socio-economic rights enshrined in our constitution would be nothing but lip-service if it were not for the hard work and active commitment of an active and vibrant non-profit sector.

And the reason there are so many non-profits in our country speaks more to the deep social divisions, historic inequalities, government ineptness and gross neglect of the vast majority of our citizens, rather than an overcrowded NPO marketplace as suggested by Davids.

I am not saying there is not room for improvement. None of us go into the sector to balance spreadsheets and construct logframes to evaluate our work.

We do so because we have a passion to make a difference in our communities and our country. Our focus is on how best we can help and meet the social needs of our most vulnerable and marginalised citizens. 

So yes, we probably do need to spend more time and energy on effective management and administrations as Davids suggests, but never at the expense of the people we serve.