A robust and active civil society is central to building an enduring democracy in South Africa. However, as Mark Heywood of Section27 pointed out ("Lack of funds threatens the survival of essential social justice groups in SA", Cape Times Insight, October 5), the social justice sector of civil society is in danger of extinction as foreign funding dries up and the political space for activism is put under increasing pressure from the state.
Social movements, trade unions, non-profit organisations (NPOs) and a myriad other social formations play a critical role in keeping checks on the operations of state and other axes of social and economic power such as business. Moreover, it is progressive civil society activism that holds the key to the consolidation of democracy and to ensuring that constitutional values and principles are advanced. Social justice and human rights organisations also challenge social and economic inequalities.
These organisations are often at the forefront of the social change agenda in relation to, among others, access to housing, health care and education, basic service delivery, violence against women and gay and lesbian people, and xenophobia.
However, the maintenance and strengthening of this role requires resources, human and financial.
The plummeting of the global economy in 2008 has seen a dwindling of funding resources for civil societies internationally. And, the international funding sector increasingly sees South Africa as an economy with sufficient wealth to be able to support its own civil society.
This has been hard-felt by local NPOs, largely dependent on foreign funding. Many NPOs have been forced to reduce their work significantly, or close their doors. Most critically, we are yet to see an increase in resources from local sources (private, corporate and state) to bridge this growing funding gap.
State funding sources are primarily channelled into those NPOs providing direct welfare services to the poor. However, the state, through its two key funding agencies - the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund and the National Development Agency (NDA) - tends not to fund organisations that challenge the state, advocate for greater political transparency and accountability, or advance social justice principles. Rather, NDA funds are mostly channelled into projects in line with the Social Development Department's priorities. …