The South African National NGO Coalition, SANGOCO, has traditionally built up a public and political profile as a civil society movement that champions the interests of the poor. The Speak Out on Poverty Hearings, and the pro-poor critiques and engagements with government have solidified this profile. Direct pro-poor political movements are restricted to the civil society arena, with the trade union movement, church organizations, community based initiatives and NGOs providing the political thrust for greater anti-poverty effort on the part of government. In this arena, SANGOCO continued promotion of the interests of the poor remains a critical pressure for addressing structural poverty. Increasing unemployment, inappropriate and faulty delivery frameworks, and an increasingly intransigent government on economic policy issues all contribute to an environment that is critical for organized pro-poor activity.

However, it is important to mention that the non-profit, non-governmental sector has faced a number of challenges that have redefined its role and capacity since 1994. Rapid political change and policy development placed a great emphasis on engagement with government, and pressure to engage with intensive political transformation processes. Consequently, senior and experienced NGO staffs have been drafted into the ranks of the newly formed government and the transforming private sector, leading to a situation of extreme flux within organisations. SANGOCO as the custodian of CBOs and NGOs in South Africa has to grapple with these challenges and ensure future existence and continued support for these organisations.

Problem Analysis

The post-1994 political context has demanded redefinitions of the roles and profiles of NGOs to meet the imperatives of development delivery and constructive engagement. At the same time the demands and needs of the poor continue to grow as an economic framework, and inadequately implemented policies, continue to impoverish and marginalize increasing numbers of the poor.

The South African NGO Coalition has not escaped these pressures, and has struggled to transform its own operations to address these issues. As a result of an over-emphasis on national levels of operation, provincial NGO Coalition structures have functioned in an uneven manner, with some struggling to recruit members, and maintain basic levels of coordination with these members. The result is that in many provinces, the presence and influence of civil society organisations has been muted, with a corresponding weakness in democratic practice and governmental development programmes.

This is unfortunate, as a strong and organised civil society in each of the provinces is crucial for the success of the development effort in South Africa. Over the next three years the impetus for development planning and delivery will be devolved to provincial and district level and the participation of civil society will be needed at this level. Increasing devolution of development responsibilities have meant that local government and provincial government department offices will not only need to engage with civil society actors, but will also need to rely on civil society for programmatic support.


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