Charities and nonprofits play a vital role in society

The International Day of Charity that was marked on Friday 3 September this year is an opportunity to reflect as a sector on the pivotal role played by local organisations in the welfare and development of our society. 

In times of crisis, humanity has always shown its resilience through the way in which people come together to protect and uplift the most marginalised and vulnerable among us. 

It is well documented that at every stage of a developing nation, the nongovernmental sector has been able to fill the gaps where the government cannot reach, especially at ground level. 

This role has not just been limited to emergency welfare drives such as the provision of food, shelter and other basic needs. It has also included the identification of gaps in service delivery, which has in turn informed policies that enable governments to carry out services more efficiently.

No more has this symbiotic relationship between organised civil society and government been more pronounced than during the Covid-19 pandemic. From the onset of the government response to the pandemic in South Africa with the initial lockdown measures, NGOs and charity organisations have been the first responders to the vulnerable suffering from the immediate effects of the lockdown restrictions.

It was through numerous nonprofits, micro organisations such as soup kitchens and larger NGOs working with the government that millions of destitute people were able to get emergency food parcels and shelter for those displaced and homeless. 

It was also through partnership with nonprofits that the government was able to conduct large-scale education and awareness campaigns encouraging people to follow Covid-19 safety protocols and regulations, and now the government relies on the street credibility of such organisations to boost vaccination programmes.

Recently, when the country was thrown into chaos for weeks during the violence and looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the nonprofit sector was first to respond to the effect on social welfare the violence had on vulnerable people, small businesses and the informal business sector.

It was during this time that Afrika Tikkun launched its ongoing #RevivingTownshipEconomies, which served to assist some of the small businesses affected by the violence. We convened meetings to understand the needs of those affected. Restocking and provision of food and other products was prioritised, and corporate South Africa was quick to respond recognising the role we could play.

It is perhaps time that society, including the government, invest in supporting the efforts of nonprofit organisations because their survival is as vital to the welfare of society as all of its other pillars. Charity organisations have suffered from the financial implications of Covid-19. 

Donations and government subsidies have been affected and many organisations are holding on by a thread.

Nonprofits and charities contribute to the economy, as buyers of consumer goods for those who cannot afford it and employ some 800 000 people.

South Africa has more than 220 000 registered nonprofits over and above the numerous local organisations that arise out of the specific needs of those places where the government has yet to fully cater for. 

The importance of these well-placed groups cannot be quantified as they are a symbol of hope for the people they serve and are often responsible for the discussions that lead to government and private sector intervention and to national and local policies. 

They also allow the marginalised to have a voice to speak truth to power and become a part of their own liberation through active citizenship. 

Let us not, in this time of unprecedented need, abandon the sector that puts people first above its own financial welfare.

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Marc Lubner
Guest Author

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