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Cele vs Cameron is the tip of the iceberg

Updated: Jul 11, 2022

FACT - Civil society services a gap in public sector service delivery to vulnerable and under-resourced communities

By now, I am sure we have all seen the videos and perused the reactions to the "Cele vs Cameron" showdown in Gugulethu earlier this week. I won't share it again here as I feel it distracts us from having the actual conversation this interaction denotes.

In many South African communities, NGOs are doing the work of government.

This inconvenient truth is what, I believe, lies at the root of the minister's awkward, PTSD-fuelled response and is what will lead to a further fallout between civil society and the public sector. "Cele vs Cameron" is a seminal moment in the public discourse around this topic.

A few weeks ago, GrowZA shared an interview from a flood relief project we are connected to in KZN where the message from the consortium of NGOs, private sector and community members was simply "Government is not coming to save us, we have to do this ourselves". This message is a double-edged sword -

Community stakeholders have a responsibility to support, drive and grow resources - this can however only be fully realised with reliable basic service delivery as a base.

This tension fuels what is manifesting as a bipolar relationship between these parties.

Civil society in South Africa has stuttered through attempts at curating a unified voice and regularly finds itself caught up in internal competition for the favour of the funder dollar.

At the dawn of democracy, a major challenge to the success of CSOs was their "disparate, uncoordinated, locally focused and untidy margins, expressed in the proliferation of multiple terrains of struggles spread geographically and thematically all over the country(National Development Agency, 2008: 15) - this seems largely to remain the case.

These are the grounds for a perfect storm - a fight for survival by both camps with the fate of communities at stake.

The 2012 World Economic Forum rightly identified the wide-ranging roles of CSOs under the following major divisions: watchdogs, advocates, experts, capacity builders, incubators, representatives, citizenship champions, solidarity supports, and definer of standards.

The case for partnership and collaboration seems obvious.

I am consistently bemused by the partisan views taken by my fellow South Africans. The response to the Cele Cameron interaction was no different.

Twitter user @Ron_Da_Don contribution to the foray simply reads: "NGO's in South Africa are a threat to national security". His tweet hardly went viral though the support he enjoyed from the likes of @BongsMelz is enough reason for concern.

Ego seems to be a consistently referenced feature...

Civil Society Organisations are imperative as a space for the building of identity in a world where citizens feel that they have little control over their circumstances and where the nation-state becomes too big for its citizens and too small in relation to the global world order" (Charities Aid Foundation Southern Africa, 2012)

It is tempting to play victim and finger-point - the sober reality is that if civil society is not able to demonstrate the entrepreneurial muscle required to build pragmatic alliances that enable us to strengthen collective impact we will cease to exist and will by default be relegated to the peanut gallery.

That is not a fate I am willing to accept. Speak truth to power, move past the romance of activism and let's do the work needed to Grow ZA.

Written by Craig Kensley (Founder of GrowZA Social Investment Agency)


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