Coronavirus collaboration challenge

The coronavirus pandemic underlines the urgent need to address poverty and inequality through a robust civil society sector, says Nazeema Mohamed, Executive Director Inyathelo: The South African Institute for Advancement


South Africa has received the biggest contribution from local philanthropy in its history. South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, initially revealed that the Rupert and Oppenheimer families had each contributed R1 billion to help small businesses and their employees affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The Motsepe family, in partnership with companies and organisations that they are associated with, also pledged R1 billion to help with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and its related challenges.


The Charity Aid Foundation Southern Africa has responded by setting up an emergency fund to support local NPOs impacted by funding shortages due to the Covid-19 crisis. The organisation is calling on individuals and corporates to donate to this fund, as they are already flooded with more requests than they can fund.


Facebook and other social media platforms are underpinning matchmaking efforts that are enabling donors to channel funds to NPOs that are working to help those desperately in need.  For example, Gift of the Givers, Africa’s largest disaster response NPO, has partnered with Vula Mobile, a network of over 11,000 health professionals, to help identify areas in need of support. Many other NPOs have created COVID-19 action plans to help those who will be hardest hit by the pandemic.


The rallying together of all stakeholders to prevent the transmission of the corona virus, curb the increase in fatalities and render support to the most vulnerable communities, demonstrates the power of philanthropy, collaboration and effective communication.


Examining government’s response to the pandemic, we should recognise the positive initiatives that have been implemented. Government’s Solidary Fund, chaired by Ms Gloria Serobe, is enabling, individuals and organisations to support relief efforts through tax-deductible donations.  The African Union COVID19 Response Fund, too, was established on 26 March. Members pledged the sum of $12.5 million and an additional $4.5million to the Africa Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.

Having acknowledged all that is positive, it is also important to note the cognitive dissonance of many during this time.   While grateful for the proactive approach by government and the funding made available by philanthropy, posts on social media offer critique and express cynicism and discomfort. Sentiments expressed portray concerns that 26 years after the birth of our democracy, South Africa still has large numbers of informal settlements; and  basic human rights such as the right to employment, housing, education, health care, safety and security are far from being achieved.  The lament is that if we had made progress in this regard then the fight against this virus would have been a less complex one. There is anger over all the wasted government funds siphoned out through corruption. Horror is expressed at the level of wealth of South Africa’s wealthiest families.

The blame game at this time is not helpful but it is important that our historical trajectory and failures receive robust and critical analysis.


There have been clarion calls for non-profit organisations (NPOs) to assist with the distribution of food parcels and water, for support to parents responsible for home schooling, for assistance with communicating the importance of social distancing and the actions required to stay healthy. Non-profits which work in sectors such as food security, gender-based violence, youth and children, care for the elderly and popular education are finding that the social issues that led to their formation have amplified and that they are increasingly being asked for support.


We also notice the fissures and cracks coming to the fore. Many non-profits will not survive because of funding constraints.  The ability to organise in a time of lock-down requires financial capacity and support and new ways of working.  At the very basic level of operations, data has become an issue. In lock down, technology platforms like WhatsApp, Zoom and Skype have assisted greatly with our ability to do work, but many NPOs cannot afford the data costs that accompany the use of these platforms.

The challenges we have on data reflect the challenges of implementation and support by the relevant arms of government.  Central to the role played by government is the limited capacity and accessibility of the Directorate for NPO support in the Department of Social Development (DSD). There is also a concerning attitude towards civil society that sees worthiness only in the work of NPOs that facilitate the work of the DSD.


The absence of the non-profit sector in the discussions of national government at this time is a reflection of this line of thinking.  I also believe it is the consequence of an innate weakness in the conceptual and implementation capabilities of national governance systems when it comes to the sector as a whole.


It highlights a problematic approach that excludes organisations that play an important monitoring and evaluation role, a watchdog role that seeks to promote social justice and protect our Constitution and democracy.


To date, the President’s addresses to the nation on COVID-19 and actions that will be taken to mitigate the risks have excluded the non-profit sector.  It is extremely worrying that a sector of this size has been omitted from government’s disaster management plan rescue package. This situation must be corrected and it is important that philanthropy and the NPO sector collaborate and draw government’s attention to the oversight.


We cannot carry on without fully addressing the huge challenges of poverty and inequality, and this requires a robust civil society.  We also cannot carry on working in silos.  In the NPO sector there is a need to work collaboratively.  It is important to raise our concerns about the state of civil society and the potential destruction of the non-profit sector, more so because the sector has taken 25 years to recover from the leadership crisis that emerged with the recruitment of non-profit leaders into government.  We cannot afford another crisis.


Contact: The Ask Inyathelo site here is home to a wealth of online articles, video clips, podcasts and other resources;  and the Inyathelo Non-profit Clinic here  provides one-on-one mentorship, training and advice to NPOs and higher education institutions, with a specific focus on their sustainability and Advancement needs.



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