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Gauteng premier reinstates NPOs’ budgets after R216m ‘reconfiguration’

Gauteng premier reinstates NPOs’ budgets after R216m ‘reconfiguration’
Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle)

Nonprofit organisations in Gauteng have welcomed Premier Panyaza Lesufi’s announcement that he will reinstate the subsidies that NPOs received in the 2022/2023 financial year. This came after Lesufi said last month that the budget for social welfare services was to be slashed by R216m.

Representatives from numerous nonprofit organisations (NPOs) gathered earlier this month for an engagement event at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown with Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi and the Gauteng MEC for social development, Mbali Hlophe, to discuss the slashing of the budget for social welfare services by R216-million.

The department stated on 9 April that the overall R2.3-billion budget for NPOs was not being cut, but “reconfigured” to respond to Lesufi’s “identified priorities”, especially treatment for substance abusers. 

gauteng npos

Managers and staff from nonprofit organisations picket outside the Gauteng social development departments regional office in Germiston on 13 April 2023, after the departments announcement of its reprioritisation strategy. (Photo: Takudzwa Pongweni)

The reconfiguration left many NPOs providing services for children, the elderly, the disabled, and those living with HIV and Aids unsure how they would pay their employees and continue offering services to their beneficiaries in the coming weeks.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘What about the children, the disabled, the mentally ill?’ NPOs blast Gauteng’s reconfigured social welfare budget

Lesufi opened the event with a commitment to reinstating, by 15 May, the subsidies that NPOs received in the 2022/2023 financial year. He said he would “call an urgent meeting with the Premier’s Budget Committee, to deal with the funding of the elevated priorities so the NPO budget can be allocated to approved and compliant NPOs…”

Given the many complaints and allegations of corruption, the Department of Social Development will institute an audit to investigate the department’s internal process, and whether the department is receiving its value for money from the R2.3-billion allocated to the sector — citing concerns about the mismanagement of funds by some NPOs.

Lesufi committed to holding a two-day summit where NPOs could engage with the department about other underlying issues facing the sector. 

Representatives weigh in

Thabo Moshatane, from Central Gauteng Mental Health, said he was happy with the premier’s statement.

“We appreciate the fact that the premier took time to come and meet with us, after the conundrum of the funding being stopped for NPOs. 

“We are satisfied the funding has been reversed… all social workers and other employees who lost their jobs because of this are going to be reinstated.” 

Moshatane said he was happy with Lesufi’s commitment to holding a two-day summit with representatives from the Department of Social Development [DSD] as well as the NPO sector.

“A summit where all NPOs will be in one house addressing issues that directly affect them as they are operating and practising their services, that alone will give us much attention,” he said. “There are many issues affecting different sectors which I believe the summit will look into.”

The summit could also provide ways to review funding models for NPOs, which would be beneficial, he said. 

Lisa Vetten, a research associate at Wits University’s Southern Centre for Inequality Studies, who compiled an analysis of the budget allocation that was initially announced on 5 April, said she hoped the summit would include discussions about doing more to recognise the often undervalued contributions care workers make to the economy as well as reconsider how “success” is measured in the NPO sector. 

Right now, she said, evaluations of NPOs relied too heavily on productivity and numbers, which often fail to encompass the actual indicators of impactful care work. In the context of Lesufi’s call for an audit of the NPO sector, Vetten said addressing these deep-rooted misconceptions would be important.

“A care economy is a very different economy to the standard one that makes products… in terms of factory-line production. Obviously, a lot of people using a service is useful, but I think you should start to map the dimensions of: What do they use the service for? Do they come back? Do they use the full quota of services? Then you’re starting to measure the multiple kinds of demands of health … and how comprehensive and how holistic it is.” 

Phyllis Vilakazi, from the Greater Eldorado Park Youth Skills Development Centre, also welcomed the summit and said she hoped it would be an opportunity to repair relationships between the DSD and NPO sector and foster more collaboration.

“The summit will capture quite a lot of issues that are within the DSD and also within the NPO sector,” she said. “We are very happy to know that now there will be that engagement and maybe continuously, to try and see how better we can position the NPO to work with the DSD.”

Department and NPOs consider paths forward

During a Q&A session after Lesufi’s statement, MEC Hlophe reiterated the commitment to holding a two-day summit and said she would ensure that NPOs were informed “well ahead of time” to properly prepare for it. 

Some members of the NPO sector expressed frustration about the lack of communication from the department in the past — the department changed the venue for the engagement event three times, and altered the time with little notice, making it difficult for some NPOs to attend. 

During the Q&A, some representatives from the NPO sector said they wanted reassurance that they would not face unexpected, last-minute budget cuts in the future.

“We have to work in partnership with the DSD,” one representative said. “What happened to that partnership? We get treated abominably by your officials… If we’re going to work together, we have to work together as people who are serving the same communities.”

Hlophe acknowledged that there was a need for better coordination between the department and the NPO sector, as well as increased funding for many of the services that NPOs provide. She highlighted the need for a two-pronged approach focused on better funding and better coordination between NPOs and the department.

Hlophe said a failure to respond to some of the premier’s targets had led to his concerns about the department. She said reaching those targets would be difficult, but not impossible.

“I don’t think it’s something that’s beyond reach, I just think there’s been coordination gaps, which we can address, and those sector engagements will allow us to do so,” she said.

Vetten said donors and the government needed to shift away from a productivity-focused mindset when dealing with care issues. Right now, she said, some hesitated to invest in care because they thought it had a low “return on investment”.

“People are always going to get older… accidents happen, people may become disabled,” she said. “Care will always be required, and we should stop being dismissive of dependency — everybody is dependent at some point in their lives.” DM/MC

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