SOCIAL WELFARE CRISIS
Orphans, vulnerable children hit hard by state funding cuts, says desperate Gauteng NPO
An organisation offering support to vulnerable children describes the crisis they now face amid defunding by the Gauteng social development department. It is one of many NPOs hit by state funding cuts.
The Gauteng social development department’s budget was increased marginally by R12-million to R5.55-billion for the 2023/24 financial year and is spread across five areas: administration, development and research, children and families, restorative services and social welfare.
While transfers to NPOs amounted to R2.3-billion, this impressive- seeming total disguised a cut of R417.6-million to social services and services to children and families, said Lisa Vetten, a research associate at Wits University’s Southern Centre for Inequality Studies.
Much of this was transferred to the development and research programme and many criticised this reprioritisation of funding at the time.
Premier Panyaza Lesufi later backtracked on this budget reconfiguration and announced in May that he would reinstate the subsidies that nonprofit organisations (NPOs) received in 2022/23.
Sounding the alarm
However, despite assurances from Lesufi and Gauteng MEC for social development Mbali Hlophe, many organisations say there are still problems.
One of them is Abraham Kriel Bambanani, a registered NPO providing care and skills development in the greater Johannesburg area for traumatised children and young people in need.
CEO Paul Momsen told Daily Maverick that the NPO provides shelter, physical care, rehabilitation and skills development for those who have been subjected to trauma, abuse, molestation, poverty, neglect and unemployment. It offers residential care, community services and educational programmes to hundreds of beneficiaries. “The last financial year in our residential care we provided services and care to 231 children in nine different facilities around Johannesburg. In our community programmes we had a total of 1,549 children but also 800 adults affiliated with children,” said Momsen.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Budget 2023
The NPO, with 225 staff members, receives 32% of its income from the social development department. “About 60% of our revenue is from fundraising among individuals, companies, churches, and foundations – we also get 8% of our income from student residence and training of child youth care workers,” said Momsen.
The organisation still receives partial funding from the department for its skills development centre and the children’s home, as well as funding for its early childhood development centre from the Department of Basic Education. “There was a very minor increase in the funding for the skills development centre, but unfortunately on all of these things there was none – which is, of course, a problem because of the very sharp increase in operational costs,” he said.
Orphans and vulnerable children affected most by cuts
Momsen said he was informed in April that the organisation would no longer receive funding for selected programmes. “In our case the crisis is with the programmes for orphaned and vulnerable children in Soweto and Westbury – they have been defunded completely,” he said.
Although there was even a reapplication process for organisations, this had simply allowed the department to turn down applications. “Once the application was in, they simply did not approve the funding, and said there’s no funding available anymore.”
The organisation had only been told its funding had not been approved, not why.
“We wrote a letter and enquired. We never got a response to that,” Momsen said.
The general reason given to organisations in the sector was that they were noncompliant with municipal by-laws. Momsen described these noncompliance issues as “immaterial”.
“There’s no facilities for drop-in centres in the townships. There’s no proper facilities; you rent facilities from churches, or schools, or you use it for free,” he said.
In such instances, deficiencies such as not having a building plan are common, and without a building plan one cannot get a health certificate, resulting in the organisation being labelled noncompliant with municipal by-laws.
“In our case, in both Soweto and Westbury, that’s immaterial. For 10 years we have been doing this. We prepare food and distribute with refrigerated trucks to our centres, so the health certificate lies in Langlaagte where we have a large kitchen,” said Momsen.
“So, it’s immaterial in practice whether Westbury, which by design has never had a kitchen, has got a health certificate for a kitchen – yet that type of thing formed the basis of us not being able to supply a health certificate, therefore making us noncompliant and therefore no funding”.
Elsewhere, the chairperson of the Johannesburg Older Persons Forum, Kidi Mofube, said there are 12 service centres that are now not funded.
And the Civil Society Forum, which represents 62 organisations that have been defunded, reportedly threatened to take the department to court in September to force it to fund NPOs.
Issues evident since September 2022
Vetten said the problems facing the sector now are linked to the April budget reconfiguration, but they started earlier.
“In September 2022, the department called organisations to a meeting and told them that they (the department) would be taking over services, and also warned organisations that if they were noncompliant, they were going to be much harder on them,” she said.
“That’s when it seems to have really ramped up and I think from this year it has intensified.”
Vetten said the regulatory framework the department is relying on to defund organisations is unclear, describing it as “an area of chaos and confusion”.
“What is clear from talking to those involved in the early childhood development sector is that this is an enormously messy area of law, governed simultaneously by the Children’s Act, the Health Act, the National Environmental Health Norms and Standards for Premises and Acceptable Monitoring Standards for Environmental Health Practitioners, and the Spatial Planning and Land Use Management Act and the ways these are filtered through municipal by-laws,” she said.
“By-laws themselves vary from municipality to municipality. The result is an overregulated tangle of rules creating parallel, confused and confusing as well as contradictory processes.”
Vetten cited the example of the department recently defunding drop-in centres through its powers in the Children’s Act. “Why? Because the municipality claimed they had by-laws for ECDs but not drop-in centres. Eventually the centre was assessed as an ECD. However, the municipality’s specifications around the ratio of children-to-floor space in an ECD was different to the number of children the [department] funded. By the time a resolution was reached with the municipality, the organisation’s certificate of compliance had expired, enabling the [department] to deny the organisation’s funding application.”
Although the Children’s Act does allow the department to help organisations to comply, the department chose not to do so in this case, said Vetten.
She also voiced concerns about the department issuing a call for business plans which she said are designed to exclude as many organisations as possible from funding, including for noncompliance with by-laws.
Compliance responsibility ‘solely on NPOs’
A total of R258-million for NPOs in the province had not been allocated due to noncompliance, and 172 NPOs had been classified as noncompliant by the department.
These figures were revealed by Hlophe in a written reply to the portfolio committee on social development’s questions about the defunding of organisations.
“Beneficiaries will be linked to the Sustainable Livelihood Programme to access nutritional support in the form of food parcels,” the MEC said.
“Additionally, beneficiaries will have access to psychosocial support services at the local [social development department] office.”
Hlophe also said that other services had been redirected to compliant NPOs in the same community that provide similar services, and that the department will take over responsibility for prevention and awareness efforts.
The department would not help NPOs to become compliant or help them with municipalities since compliance with the relevant legislative requirements and ensuring healthy relations with municipalities was the sole responsibility of the NPOs, not the department.
“It has also been underscored from the previous meetings that the responsibility of compliance with the relevant legislative requirements rests with the NPOs,” said Hlophe.
Questions about Abraham Kriel Bambanani were sent to the department on Tuesday, 17 October and again on 26 October. It had not replied by the time of publication. DM