In recent weeks commentators have drawn many similarities between the South Africa we find ourselves in today and the South Africa we left behind under apartheid. Police shooting striking miners – execution style according to some reports – is the most shocking and brutal of these. The role of the NGO sector in delivering services to the poor is one similarity that has dominated news reports in various forms – particularly in the health and education sectors where weak government services are leaving those who cannot afford better behind. The NGO sector played a significant delivery role in the dark days of apartheid where sub-standard services were delivered to the majority. NGOs had a real and meaningful role to play in making up the shortfall. In the 1980s and into the 1990s – even in the few years after liberation – this sector flourished. The emerging South Africa – walking towards and then into liberation – was high on the international agenda, and donor funds flooded into our borders. When South Africa lost its prominence on the news pages, the sector declined but has picked up again in the 2000s – largely to make up for policy and delivery shortfalls in health (the early 2000s saw a proliferation of HIV/AIDS NGOs) and education. But it is the advocacy role of NGOs in the education sector in the
20-teens that is most notable. Think Section 27. It has taken an NGO to bring to light the Limpopop text book saga and to hold Government account by taking the Minister to court. When the Department failed to meet the obligations of the court order, the Minister was taken to court again. Think Equal Education. Surely a government responsible for managing 25 000 schools that services 12 million children should be working to some kind of minimum standards in terms of what infrastructure is provided to schools and how these schools are maintained? Many children still find themselves learning in crumbling mud structures or tin boxes, particularly in the Eastern Cape. It is Equal Education that is very publicly calling for norms and standards, and again, the Minister is dragged to court as a last resort after a two year advocacy campaign failed to delivery a policy shift. (See Equal Educations great slideshow calling for norms and standards: http://mg.co.za/multimedia/2012-09-18-give-us-classrooms-so-we-can-learn-1). It raises the question, how does the Minister’s timesheet reflect a balance between defending herself from delivering services versus the actual delivery of services themselves? Equally, is there a line item in the Minister’s massive budget that reads “legal costs to defend against the
delivery of services”? Voters have a say every five years. How you choose to exercise your vote is your very personal and secret way of holding Government to account (or not). There are few with pockets deep enough or time endless enough to hold Government to account through the courts. Let’s applaud
the NGO sector who has taken on this role towards the betterment of society for all. Photo courtesy of Equal Education.