Mandela Month is in full swing but for the National Shelter Movement of South Africa (NSMSA) and other non-profit organisations (NPO) working in the social care services sector there is very little Ubuntu coming from the government, especially not from the Department of Social Development (DSD). Just recently there was an announcement that “unused” social services funds – for critical services to vulnerable women, children, disabled and older persons – will be redistributed to other government departments. This emerging shift seems to imply that the government now expects nonprofits to fund themselves, even though these very NPOs are doing the government’s work.
According to the NSMSA, an umbrella organisation that supports 95 gender-based violence (GBV) shelters across the 9 provinces, Section 27 of the Constitution provides for the people’s right to social care services and establishes government’s legal obligation to provide these services. The gender-justice organisation says that recently, in regional meetings held around Gauteng, in preparation for the upcoming provincial NPO summit, NPOs are increasingly encouraged to find alternative funding.
“This is a clear indication that government means to back out of its responsibility to provide care for the vulnerable. However, neither government nor the Department of Social Services can legally withdraw a right from people simply because they do not feel like funding these services anymore or because they want to do something else. Taking away social care services from our most vulnerable amounts to the regressive, rather than progressive realisation of rights, as demanded by the constitution,” says NSMSA’s Head of the Executive Zubeda Dangor.
She says, “Moreover, as DSD is the department responsible for social care in the country, underspending and redistribution of its funds is counter-productive and not advisable, and if redistribution within the department is required, it should be very closely monitored. With that said, there are some budgets that should be completely safeguarded, such as those services that work to protect women, children, the disabled and older persons.”
Funding uncertainty is nothing new to NPOs in the social care services sector in South Africa. And it is very concerning that government appears to be so cavalier with the wellbeing of our country’s most vulnerable. The fact that Gauteng DSD felt it was acceptable to just pull up to 61% from NPO funding in April 2023, is an indication of how these services and the people they support are regarded by government. The funds have since been reinstated, as per last year’s budget, but only following a massive outcry from those providing services, on government’s behalf, to help vulnerable and abused children without families, people with disabilities, and the elderly.
“What will happen to the very fabric of our society when we no longer care for our country’s most vulnerable? Is this really the type of South Africa we want to be? Over the years shelter services for victims of domestic and intimate partner violence, which is on the rise in South Africa, have been severely obstructed as a result of government’s inability to provide clear and consistent funding. Even with our own fundraising efforts, we need so much more to provide adequate care for vulnerable women and children,” adds Dangor.
This Mandela Day, the National Shelter Movement of South Africa calls on South Africans to DONATE just R67 (sixty-seven Rand) to support 95 GBV shelters around the country. To find out about other ways to assist these shelters and the women and children escaping domestic violence, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
A similar situation seems to be playing out in Mpumalanga where the provincial DSD also appears to want to reduce funds to NPOs and remove critical services. As it is, according to the Commission for Gender Equality’s (CGE) 2019 report, shelters in this province have already been crippled by the lack of state support and chronic underfunding. The Shelter Movement says that it is also concerned that the trend to reduce government funding could severely affect social care services across the nation.
However, even with GBV shelters having some protection – because GBV is supposedly a presidential priority – these shelters still receive too little funding. Many NSM-affiliated shelters still receive the same amounts as last year, which does not account for inflation and increasing interest rates. Moreover, these funds are often disbursed erratically (the model is severely flawed), which adversely affects the delivery of shelter services. Sadly, what this under-spending and redistribution of funds reveals is that, even with all the talk from the State, putting an end to gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) does not appear to be a real priority for the President nor his government. Even with his commitment, which saves GBV shelters from much of the impact of the redistribution of funds, the truth is that shelters are chronically underfunded, with the State’s measly commitments only guaranteed until end-March 2024. Then the uncertainty starts again.
In Western Cape, according to The Safehouse Executive Director Kathy Cronje, “We are appalled to discover that the National Department of Social Development’s budget for 2022/23 was underspent and redistributed. Here we are and have been fighting for our shelter’s survival since December 2022. Many, many shelters are in the same predicament. We are in crisis mode, under the constant threat of imminent closure. It is unconscionable that shelters – tasked with the responsibility of protecting women and children affected by domestic and intimate partner violence – are so disregarded, notwithstanding our very public appeals for funding assistance, last year. The lack of foresight and consideration for those doing public service work, on behalf of government, is astounding!”
The NSMSA says that it is also unrealistic and disingenuous to expect care service providers to raise their own funds to meet any shortfalls, as is required by the State. NSMSA Executive Member and Director at Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women Adv. Bernadine Bachar says, “Sure, there are those NPOs where there is room to create products and services as a way of raising funds. But there is very little room for those whose core purpose is to provide care services to victims of gender-based violence to also still focus on creating ways to generate income to help make them viable. This is government’s responsibility and a great part of why South Africans pay taxes. This back and forth on funding for social and care services, especially to those who need it most, goes against the spirit of Ubuntu. Sadly, we are just not seeing government’s commitment to provide the best social care for our people.”
Furthermore, where NPOs are trying to raise their own funds, these efforts are stymied as a result of the state of the nation. Foreign donors no longer want to provide aid to a country plagued with corruption and weak governance. South Africa’s greylist status – a result of “not fully complying with international standards around the prevention of money laundering, terrorist financing and proliferation financing” – has had a profound impact on funding from foreign sources.
It is time to put an end to the lip service. If South Africans – government, the private sector, and our society as a whole – want to put an end to gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF), they must put their money and support where their mouths are. The government must improve its systems and prioritise critical GBV interventions, such as shelters. NPOs desperately need private sector partners to help with funding and fundraising, and also, where possible, to provide professional services and such.
The NSMSA’s National Shelter Helpline helps victims and survivors access all GBV-related services. Call toll-free from a landline or Telkom mobile on 0800 001 005 or dial 112 from a Vodacom or Cell C phone or send a WhatsApp or PleaseCallMe to 082 057 8600.