Not entirely omniscient
17 March 2018 06:48 (South Africa)
Opinionista Gushwell Brooks

The Great NGO Funding Crisis – the sequel

  • Gushwell Brooks
    gushwell brooks for DM
    Gushwell Brooks

    Gushwell F. Brooks is an LLB graduate from the University of the Witwatersrand. He did not go on to become an attorney, but much rather entered the corporate rat race. After slaving away for years, he found his new life as a talk show host for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk.

It is that time of the year when dubious B-grade horror movies return – usually in the form of sequels (think Scary Movie XIIIII). The thriller-horror genre is particularly popular at this time of the year, when South Africans start observing the newly adopted, commercialised, Americanised Halloween. Sadly, I have my own horror story sequel to write – but mine, unfortunately, is a true story.

I have the unpleasant task of writing a sequel a year and a half after Rebecca Davis did a sterling job of covering a funding crisis that threatened to permanently shut the doors of South Africa’s oldest rape support organisation, Cape Town’s Rape Crisis.

This sequel is set within a context where five toddlers have been brutally murdered in the last week, where Anene Booysen’s murder accused faces multiple charges of rape, mutilation and murder and if you took the time to read one of Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre (Tshwaranang)’s reports, you would understand that women get a raw deal in the home, courts and at our police stations.

Within this tapestry of tragedy is one significant catastrophe, the fact that if things do not change immediately for Tshwaranang, they would have to close their doors permanently by the end of November. Who are Tshwaranang and what impact would be felt if they had to shut their doors?

Since its inception, Tshwaranang has made a huge contribution to the understanding and the advancement of women’s rights. Shireen Motara, current Executive Director of the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) recalls the organisation’s humble beginning 16 years ago: “In 1997, I was appointed as the first employee of TLAC as a legal researcher, by the then-executive director Joanne Fedler, now a famous author living in Australia.” Fedler goes on to elaborate on what prompted the establishment of Tshwaranang: “In the mid-nineties, the Ford Foundation got me and Mmatshilo Motsei to do a study of organisations that worked in the field of violence against women - both in South Africa and in the USA and Canada. We interviewed people in different types of organisations, and then we put together a proposal for what we believed would respond to the issues in SA. Our proposal was for a legal advocacy centre to help change legislation, the way women are treated in the legal system and the way they are represented in the media.”

Like most NGOs, particularly those focused on social justice, in this instance gender equity and advocacy for dignified treatment of women in our legal system, Tshwaranang faced its fair share of challenges in fundraising from inception. “The Ford Foundation gave us the start-up funding but we then had to fund-raise. We never got any money from the government. We approached other organisations that were giving money to NGOs in SA - most of them were overseas funders. It was always a challenge to raise money,” says Fedler.

What about local support? Surely we have one or two “blue-chip” corporates that can direct their corporate social investment funds towards organisations such as Tshwaranang? Motara’s experience in seeking funding from corporates tells the following story: “Tragically, corporate funding doesn’t always reach organisations such as Tshwaranang, because the nature of our work makes it difficult for them to see how it benefits their bottom-line. A cost-benefit-analysis seems to unfortunately trump the advancement of women’s rights, with a failure to take cognisance of the fact that poverty, poor education, unemployment and a failing economy impacts more severely on women. Despite that, it is about time that corporates, funders and even private citizens realised that supporting organisations like these might not, on the face of it, add to the bottom-line, but what matters is that it needs to be done and we need to give women real, effective equality under law.”

But now, just like other NGOs, Tshwaranang has not been immune to the funding crisis facing the sector. Funds from international donors are increasingly being diverted to trade and other countries in the region because South Africa is seen as a middle income country. In the last month, the organisation lost half its staff complement to reduce its overheads.

But what has Tshwaranang’s impact been over the years? Motara explains: “In 1997, we were part of the South African Law Commission’s committee for the reviewing of the (then) Prevention of Family Violence Act, which resulted in the Domestic Violence Act (DVA), recognised to be a significant improvement in this area of the law. We were also part of the committee that worked with the then Department of Justice to establish the Family Court model. Since then Tshwaranang has, with other organisations, played a key role in driving improvements to sexual offences legislation and the establishment of the sexual offences courts.

“Our research around the implementation of the DVA in terms of the role of the police, the court system, and women’s experiences in trying to access protection orders; analysing various government departments’ implementation of the DVA and Sexual Offences Act; rape attrition studies; funding of shelters for abused women; protecting the human rights of sex workers; and abused women’s help seeking; amongst others, has contributed significantly to identifying the flaws in the system. We have provided clear proof and evidence of how the police and the justice system are the main culprits in the secondary victimisation of women.”

Simon Delaney, Director at Delaney Attorneys, adds: “It would be a tragedy if TLAC were to close its doors. It is the only organisation in Gauteng that specialises in advocacy and litigation support for survivors of gender violence. Tshwaranang is the only specialist research organisation in the sphere.”

In as much as organisations such as these are viewed as being “at odds with government” supposedly sharing an icy and acrimonious relationship with the executive and legislature, Tshwaranang is an exception to the rule on two levels. Firstly they have added great value in the development of the legislation we use to this day to strengthen the position of women in our legal, judicial and administrative system. Secondly, after attending a number of the presentations on their research reports, government participation has always been collegial, cooperative, yet honest.

So could government itself allow Tshwaranang to shut down, considering the supplementary work it does in ensuring that government ensures gender equity as per our Constitution? I wanted to pose this question to Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane, but after a few redirects, I eventually had an opportunity to ask Head of Department: Social Development, Ms Shoki Tshabalala, who responded: “It is the first time [we] hear about Tshwaranang’s situation. I cannot comment on whether we can provide any assistance at this stage. If Tshwaranang needs assistance, they would have to engage us themselves; we are willing to engage them. We will see who else can assist them.”

I will most certainly follow this up with the Department of Social Development and whichever government department is willing to pitch in. I agree with Motara: “Organisations like ours are by nature non-profit and therefore dependent on the good will of donors. Whilst we have mainly been funded by international donors, we do think government should consider how to respond to the funding crisis in the sector. This is an opportunity for the Gender Based Violence Council to act to save the sector. “

This is my question, though, since government seems to be the biggest beneficiary of international investment, does that not place a responsibility on government to support organisations such as Tshwaranang and Rape Crisis? If this support is directed to these organisations that not only point to government’s administrative shortcomings, but often supplements it, would this funding come with no strings attached, or would the expectation be that these organisations reciprocate government’s generosity by doing as the puppet master pleases? I hope not, they have been doing well enough with very few resources and no political interference thus far. All that we should expect is that government invest in these organisations to continue and strengthen the essential work they have been  doing all along. DM

  • Gushwell Brooks
    gushwell brooks for DM
    Gushwell Brooks

    Gushwell F. Brooks is an LLB graduate from the University of the Witwatersrand. He did not go on to become an attorney, but much rather entered the corporate rat race. After slaving away for years, he found his new life as a talk show host for Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk.

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