Maverick Citizen


Gauteng Care Crisis Committee triumphs in court battle against Department of Social Development

Gauteng Care Crisis Committee triumphs in court battle against Department of Social Development
Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi, 22 February 2024. (Photo: Gallo Images / City Press /Tebogo Letsie) Lisa Vetten, research associate of Wits University’s Southern Centre for Inequality Studies. (Photo: Chris Collingridge) Mbali Hlophe, Gauteng MEC for Social Development. (Photo: Gallo Images / OJ Koloti)

With vital services to Gauteng’s most vulnerable hanging in the balance, the Gauteng Care Crisis Committee has turned to the courts to push the Department of Social Development into action.

The Gauteng Care Crisis Committee (GCCC) achieved a significant milestone in its legal confrontation with the Gauteng Department of Social Development regarding the funding delays crisis.

Representing 62 social care nonprofit organisations (NPOs), the committee pursued legal action in the Johannesburg High Court on Wednesday with an urgent application.

In court, the GCCC contended that this order is crucial to ensure the department concludes what has been a protracted and disorderly process for organisations delivering social services to vulnerable individuals across the province. These include child and youth centres, women’s shelters, and residences for individuals with severe disabilities.

Since the start of the financial year, various organisations have yet to receive confirmation that they will be funded for the financial year. Other organisations have had to close, some have scaled backed on the services they offer, and several organisations are in precarious financial positions.

The urgent application was to compel the department to promptly finalise the evaluation of applications submitted by the NPOs. Additionally, GCCC sought an order requiring the department to notify successful applicants of its decision within seven days after the court order.

Judge Ingrid Opperman ruled in favour of the GCCC, stating that the department must conclude its funding adjudications by Friday 24 May for all social work organisations that had submitted applications, provide service level agreements (SLAs)  to all successful organisations by 30 May, and ensure that all owed funds are disbursed to organisations within seven days of signing the service level agreements.

Opperman further mandated that the department must submit a report to the GCCC by 7 June. This report should include a list of all organisations approved for funding in the 2024/25 financial year, reasons for declined funding, allocated amounts to approved NPOs, and a list of organisations that have finalised their SLAs along with payment dates.

Decision welcomed but still a long way to go

Lisa Vetten, chair of the GCCC, said the outcome of the court case is a “very good outcome and exactly what we want”.

“It means we can hold the department accountable and their decision-making process has now become transparent. So it will also mean that we can intervene at a systemic level, instead of organisations having to go on a case-by-case basis to query the department’s decisions, which can take months, we can now go directly to the court when there are difficulties and that also helps equalise the power imbalance between NGOs and the DSD,” she said.

“There is still a long road ahead, I think this process has been so chaotic and confusing. SLAs need to be revised to make them less prejudicial to organisations and that’s going to be a fight. There are all kinds of unexplained cuts that make no sense and those are going to have to be challenged, and also where there have been refusals, those also need to be challenged.”

Vanessa Carelse, the director of Greater Benoni Child Welfare, welcomed the outcome and echoed Vetten’s sentiments.

“I think it’s a battle won, but I don’t think we’ve won the war yet. We can’t be in this position again, next year,” she said.

Carelse said organisations were unsure about how the adjudication process has unfolded and the criteria as none of that information was provided to them.

“Now they need to provide that information, as well as who the panellists are and what their qualifications are and I think that’s important information,” she said.

Greater Benoni Child Welfare is a child protection organisation rendering services in Benoni and Daveyton to over 150 beneficiaries. Carelse said the organisation received a 66% funding cut this financial year, meaning that certain services will likely be determined as they will not have the resources and capacity to render them.

“We need to stand up for the rights of the vulnerable, specifically children in our country. The increase of violence inflicted on children and children being killed in abuse is higher now more than ever, so we can’t go on like this,” said Carelse.

Organisations remain in the dark 

On 14 May, Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi met with NPOs and promised to reverse cuts to the department’s budget, pay the subsidies by 24 May, and review the complaints about service-level agreements.

The department’s budget for non-profits was initially R223-million less for 2024/25 than it was in 2023/24, but Lesufi said the 2024/25 budget would be “restored” from R1.8-billion to R2.4-billion.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Gauteng, KZN non-profits sound future funding alarm after Social Development budget cuts

The current crisis mirrors the crisis of 2023/24 when the GDSD attempted to slash millions from the budget earmarked for social care services, inciting widespread protests from NPOs across the province. Lesufi ultimately reinstated the subsidies that NPOs received in the 2022/2023 financial year.

Carelse said she was uncertain if the funding cuts would stay in place as there had been no official feedback from the department regarding this.

“I know the Premier said that they would all restore all funding that was cut, but we haven’t received any formal communication from them in that regard. My staff is rendering services to our current beneficiaries, but we have stopped rendering services to new beneficiaries because we just don’t have the capacity,” she said.

If the cuts stay in place, the organisation ​​may need to stop rendering services to their 577 foster kids.

Vetten said GCCC would have to closely monitor the situation.

“We will have to keep a very careful eye on whether or not the Premier’s grand promises of additional funding are actually going to materialise, and if they do, how will they then be used?”

Department response: denials and administrative challenges

The department, in its reply opposing the application, denied allegations that there had been unreasonable delays in processing applications and in making payments to approved NPOs.

Acting head of department (HOD) Bongani Ngomane said the process had been hindered by the “administrative challenges” within the department, which also include the recent departure of its former HOD, Matilda Gasela.

“That said, the processing of applications for funding is being undertaken urgently, and the department anticipates having completed it on or before 24 May, and to have informed all applicants of the outcome of their applications by that date.”

The department also provided background on the lead-up to the current crisis, saying it was sparked by findings of maladministration in the funding process by various regulatory bodies, including the auditor-general (AG), which required rectification by the department.

Ngomane said the funding process had historically lacked internal controls, creating a “fertile environment for maladministration and fraud”. The department changed its funding adjudication process this year, appointing external panels to select which organisations should receive funding.

‘There is a crisis in our sector’

The department has in previous months refuted that there is a crisis within the sector, saying that they have made significant progress in finalising the SLAs and payments to NPOs had commenced.

On 10 May, department spokesperson Themba Gadebe told Daily Maverick that over 1,700 applicant NPOs have been adjudicated and more than two-quarters of SLAs have been concluded. Gadebe also said a report tallying all numbers in terms of different programmes, key findings made, and outcomes to the series of forensic audits launched by the department in the past year would be available in due course.

“The department says there is no problem, but there is a crisis in our sector. This is not just for child protection; we’re talking about NPOs that provide care for people with disabilities and need 24-hour care that haven’t received funding since March. There are organisations caring for the elderly and they haven’t received funding,” said Carelse.

“I think in our case with child protection, if we’re not able to go out to a place where a child is being abused, the outcome of that could be that the child potentially can die. People say we are overreacting but we are not, this is a crisis.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ann Bown says:

    Civil Society Organisations have to remain proactive…budget oversight is one way! Lisa Vetten did her homework asking many tough questions based on facts and figures.

  • Alan Watkins says:

    “We will have to keep a very careful eye on whether or not the Premier’s grand promises of additional funding are actually going to materialise, and if they do, how will they then be used?”

    I can tell you now. Promises will not be kept, vulnerable people will be placed in more vulnerable positions, people in charge will steal more.

  • Confucious Says says:

    Well done! The people working in the government department are so clueless that despite court orders, still cannot make a decision or get going. They are mentally frozen and do not know what to do! Thank goodness for Civil Society!

  • Trevor Pope says:

    The money for the kits-konstabels had to come from somewhere. Perhaps this is where?

  • Jennifer Hughes says:

    This awful government is breaking my spirit. I am so grateful for the amazing civil society organisations that are keeping our country going, and that prove that South Africa is better than its ‘leadership’. Some days, though, it’s hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel.

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