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The philanthropy sector has stepped into the breach, but we must also hold the government to account

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Shelagh Gastrow provides advisory services to the philanthropy sector, higher education advancement and non-profit sustainability. She works with individuals and families on how to integrate their wealth and their values into meaningful and effective philanthropy. From 2002-2015 she was founder and executive director of Inyathelo and focused her efforts on strengthening civil society and universities through programmes to develop their financial sustainability whilst promoting philanthropy in SA. Her work has gained public recognition locally and internationally.

This current blow to South Africa has further exacerbated the need for charitable support. However, in the maelstrom, it is difficult to assess what action to take, how to take it and where to take it.

South Africans are stunned by the violence, looting and lawlessness that has taken place over the past week. The citizenry is starting to realise that there is little authority in the country and that much of what has happened may well be the new normal for the foreseeable future. The silver lining was citizens themselves taking control in the areas of security, food distribution and welfare. People from across the racial, class and political divides came together, realising that their survival was all interlinked.

Even though most people cannot see a future through the murky haze of smoke that covered swathes of this country, those with resources would like to make a contribution to communities in need. Whilst the Solidarity Fund was the rallying cry when Covid-19 first emerged in South Africa, this time the symbol of philanthropy has been represented by Gift of the Givers. It moved quickly, showing a way ahead and identifying specific areas of need.

They noted, for example, that while some towns hit by the riots would recover quickly, there were towns in KwaZulu-Natal, such as Harding, Umzinto, Donnybrook and Empangeni, where all shops and supermarkets were destroyed and where there was simply no access to food; that many essential workers such as nurses, firefighters and carers in old age homes cannot take off time to queue for their families and that those newly unemployed as a result of the destruction of businesses will need support.

The organisation was ready to craft a plan to reach out to those in need. It is also involved in helping community doctors to replenish medical equipment and supplies, while it is identifying micro and small businesses to support as they rebuild their operations.

However, South Africa has many other organisations that are active on the ground. In response to the situation, the Independent Philanthropy Association South Africa (Ipasa), which has members from local and international philanthropic foundations working in South Africa, put together a list of organisations that it recommends for support when it comes to immediate need. These organisations are known for their effectiveness and efficient use of the funds received, working in a range of areas and in particular sectors.

For South Africans seeking out reputable organisations, this list is extremely useful. It includes the following organisations:

  • The Do More Foundation, which supports early childhood development centres as access points to the wider community.
  • Food Forward had its warehouse looted and its truck destroyed. It has secured a temporary warehouse and trucks to set up its services in Durban.
  • The Angel Network provides food relief.
  • Words that Count is seeking funding for emergency vaccination sites.
  • KZN Network on Violence Against Women is distributing emergency supplies.
  • Famsa Pietermaritzburg provides humanitarian assistance.
  • Black Umbrellas business incubator will provide support to small businesses that need help to rebuild, including financial support, airtime and data, printing paper, stock, food and ICT equipment.

Ipasa also has a list of organisations throughout KwaZulu-Natal, often linked to various church ministries, that are reputable and will distribute relief as required.

Philanthropic entities in South Africa have been put under enormous pressure. The needs in the country have always been great and many philanthropic foundations have developed clear strategies to promote change. However, the Covid-19 pandemic created a new situation and donors adapted accordingly, offering additional support to their grantees, who often faced financial and operational crises. 

This current blow to South Africa has further exacerbated the need for charitable support. However, in the maelstrom, it is difficult to assess what action to take, how to take it and where to take it. Working with trusted organisations that function well on the ground is a start, but the philanthropy sector will need to start to re-evaluate and it may well begin to find its collective voice calling for stability, coherence and real policies to effect change.

Over the last few years, there has been substantial activity on the part of organisations that seek systemic change and hold the government to account. The lack of accountability in our country and the freedom offered to many in power to loot state coffers; to undermine key institutions and to use the country as an experimental station for plans that come and go without any repercussions and certainly no jail time means that the only frontline for holding them in check is civil society. 

In addition, the role of independent media and investigative journalism has become key to our body politic. All of these are funded by private individuals or philanthropic entities. There are donors who fund organisations, such as the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac), which has litigated many times to ensure that our government attends to the requirements of the country’s founding document. However, most of Casac’s funders are international and it is high time that South African donors start to recognise the role of organisations that function beyond the charitable paradigm of relief, which is short term and merely enables people to survive, rather than thrive. 

Charity has a critical role in times of emergency, but if we don’t want to tie ourselves up in a never-ending cycle of crises, it is time for business to start supporting organisations that hold the government to account, as the current situation must have made it very clear that the business sector is not an island and without a strong civil society it too cannot exist. DM

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  • Make sure to get your tax breaks when donating to registered charities. Do not let the government have that money! Previously I let SARS keep that tax but now I will restrict every cent I can