Civil organisations can help, but they also need help

Despite democracy, the Eastern Cape province remains trapped in structural poverty but a recent study brings the good news that civil society organisations at ground level can alleviate it.

In the Eastern Cape, the Amathole district is particularly poor.

Human Development Index figures from the 2013 Global Insight Report indicate a poverty rate for the district of 41.1%. Amathole is a category C2 municipality, which points to its largely rural character, low urbanisation rate, and limited staff and budget. The district’s Integrated Development Plan Review 2008–2009 shows that 70% of its 1.7-million populace fell below the poverty line, with a 49% unemployment

This means the Amathole people are vulnerable to poverty and some experience abject poverty, which emanates from illiteracy, unemployment and no access to infrastructure as well as economic and social vulnerability.

The Eastern Cape has the highest percentage of people receiving social grants, at 40.5%, compared with the national average of 30%. Although grants have a positive effect, to be sustainable, social assistance needs to be coupled with access to basic social services and jobs.

The Eastern Cape has an anti-poverty strategy. In line with the goals of this strategy, the departments of social development and of health have funded a large number of sustainable livelihood projects in the Amathole municipality.

Although most of the civil society organisations in these projects are reportedly doing well, some reports suggest that they face problems as a result of poor alignment with the municipality’s strategic plans and that they are poorly managed and monitored.

The study looked at three civil societies in Amathole, which worked in the areas of gender-based violence, community/home-based care, health awareness, education and income generation. Primary data for the study came from key informants from the districts and villages such as community leaders and government officials. Secondary data came from documents related to the programme and scholarly reviews.

The study’s findings showed civil society organisations play an important role in making improvements to the general wellbeing of people, although the interventions were not necessarily focused directly on poverty-alleviation strategies. Any initiatives these organisations undertook formed part of their projects, such as combining an HIV project with a job creation project.

The organisations made a direct contribution to poverty alleviation by creating employment for 331 people, although 64% of these were part-time posts.

Providing assistance to their beneficiaries also involved the organisations in diverse methods that indirectly alleviate poverty, such as creating opportunities for self-employment, addressing food security issues and raising awareness about health and safety issues.

On a less positive note, the study found that the organisations experienced numerous problems, with a shortage of funding being among the key difficulties. In certain instances, problems were a consequence of competition — for example, for donor funds — among the organisations’ participants.

Researchers point to the tendency for the civil society organisation space to be treated as though it is free of problems and political tensions, which has the effect of depoliticising the situation. This approach puts the organisations at a disadvantage because when political tensions arise they are not acknowledged or dealt with.

Another problem was that people in these organisations did not have the knowledge and skills to execute their activities effectively. They were forced to rely on the services of consultants, with the extra expense. Organisations were also unable to deal with implementation complexities.

The organisations used the logical framework analysis (LFA) to plan and monitor their projects. This is a useful tool in that it graphically shows diverse components of an intervention, such as the relationship between objectives, activities and intended outcomes. The LFA should alert organisations to unexpected changes if understood and used effectively.

Considering the usefulness of civil society organisations in supplementing government poverty-eradicating strategies, the department of social development should attend to their difficulties.

Xolisile Ngumbela is a doctoral student of administration at the University of KwaZulu-Natal 

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