South Africa reflects on 10 years of democracy

When Paul Graham gets frustrated because changes aren’t happening as quickly as he would like in his homeland, he reaches into his book bag, pulls out a tattered copy of the nation’s Constitution, and reminds himself of the South Africa miracle.

“Memories go very quickly and people forget how far we’ve come. There really are very few success stories around the world like this one,” said Graham, executive director of the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA).

Since its establishment in 1986, IDASA has helped South Africa transition from apartheid to democracy by training election workers for the nation’s first all-race vote; supporting groups working on public policy issues; and writing and distributing easy-to-understand, post-election handbooks about how local governments should operate and interact with residents.

The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation’s most recent support to IDASA was a one-year, $50,000 grant in 2003 to encourage Africans and Indians in the KwaZulu-Natal province to talk openly about their differences while working side by side on community projects. In all, Mott has made nine grants to IDASA totaling $618,000.

Women discuss different aspects of life in jail in South Africa

Women discuss different aspects of life in jail in South Africa.

When talking about IDASA’s history, Graham’s voice slows and softens. He remembers the nation’s early days of democracy with clarity — days when the world watched in amazement as black South Africans, clad in colorful garments and wearing broad smiles, stood in long and winding lines for hours to cast ballots for the first time.

He describes that past energy and enthusiasm as palpable and wants his nation to experience it again.

Graham is not alone in his frustration about how long it has taken for significant changes in areas such as housing and job training. While he, like most South Africans, never expected the majority of the country’s problems to be solved in 10 years, Graham was surprised at the government’s acceptance of private solutions for providing basic human needs such as sanitation, electricity, telephone service and clean water.

Thousands of the nation’s residents still live without water, electricity and telephones, he said. This is not because those yearned-for services were never provided, but because many were disconnected after the newest utility customers, who were also the poorest, couldn’t pay their bills.

The new government attempted to tackle numerous problems all at once, which Graham called the “Big Bang” approach to reconstruction. Dismantling a system that was oppressive to 80 percent of its citizens for 50 years, while also trying to rebuild the nation, was a gigantic undertaking — even for a willing government with thousands of supportive nonprofit organizations and millions of eager citizens, he said.

“It’s like a slave ship crossing the ocean. Halfway across the waters the slaves are freed, but the boat is not designed for free people. As slaves, they were stacked and packed coffin-like. Now the boat must be rebuilt to make more open space. But it has to be done using the same timber and without sinking during the rebuilding process!”

Most people inside and outside the government agree that the frame of the ship — the Constitution — has been rebuilt and is one of the most progressive in the world. But transferring the Constitution from paper to reality has been the toughest challenge.

Much has been done to meet that challenge. For example, during this anniversary year, the country unveiled the new Constitution Hill complex as both a symbolic and practical place for South Africans to participate in the democratic process. Mott provided a $500,000 grant to Central Johannesburg Partnership (CJP) to help fund the $73.4 million, Johannesburg-based project.

The complex is home to Constitutional Court, the nation’s highest judicial body, where people can watch democracy in action. Within a few years, the site also will be home to the country’s Human Rights Commission, Mandela Library, Commission on Gender Equality and a collection of national art devoted to the theme of human rights.

The urban site was purposely chosen because of the three former prisons located there. While the buildings once housed anti-apartheid activists in segregated cells, today people of all races visit the complex and see how the new South Africa is being rebuilt, not by ignoring its past, but by acknowledging and learning from it, said Lauren Segal, program director for the Heritage, Education and Tourism team at Constitution Hill.

In addition to supporting the CJP’s role in creating the new complex, Mott has supported other nonprofit groups’ efforts to make the Constitution a reality. This includes funding grassroots grantees that make changes from the ground up, and those that work from the top down to address policies and procedures at the national level.

Several grantees — including the Non Profit Partnership of Johannesburg, which has received five grants totaling $368,000 — led successful legislative campaigns to make South Africa’s tax system more favorable to the nonprofit sector while also providing tax incentives for individual and business donors. Theses organizations continue seeking changes in this area.

But South Africa, described as the wealthiest country on the continent, has had little success in the past 10 years in redistributing resources more fairly between the haves and the have-nots, according to research conducted by the University of Natal and its Centre for Civil Society (CCS), which together have received grants totaling $2 million.

The research showed that the poorest of the poor are the ones who have benefited least from the new democracy, said Adam Habib, who studied South Africa’s nonprofit sector extensively as director of CCS. He recently broadened his research to include the public and private sectors when he became executive director of the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (HSRC), a nonprofit statutory agency that has received three grants totaling $222,900. These grants were used to conduct research about the development of democracy, integration in schools and other issues.

Habib’s research showed that, since 1994, life has worsened for 20 percent of South Africans who live in the lowest economic bracket while times have “never been better” for professionals — black and white — who rank in the top 20 percent economically.

For Habib, who speaks with both the authority and passion of the university professor he once was, discussions about life in post-apartheid South Africa are usually prefaced with a poignant question.

“We need to know which South Africa we are talking about. Are we talking about the First World South Africa or the Third World South Africa? There are now two very different South Africas.”

For children of educated black professionals, discrimination isn’t much of an issue, Habib said. They buy clothes at the same malls as white children, eat side by side at the same restaurants and attend the same schools. But, he said, life is drastically different for poor black children, who still attend segregated schools in segregated townships and carry water from communal taps and fetch firewood for cooking daily.

Thus, in the new South Africa, race issues are still pervasive. So, as the nation steadily moves from being a society characterized by racial privilege and exclusion to one that provides equal access and equal rights to all, Mott will continue grantmaking that addresses the enormous racial challenge head-on and the intersection of race with other issues, such as poverty.

From Habib’s perspective, South Africa’s race inequities have evolved into class inequities. Still, recent polls show that the overwhelming majority of South Africans believe they are better off under the new government than under the old apartheid system, where the white minority ruled with an iron fist.

But Habib’s passion flares when the new system is compared with the old.

“This 10-year mark is a time of celebration for all South Africans. Nobody wants to go back to apartheid. But if you describe the apartheid system as a crime against humanity, then you can’t use it as a reference point by which you measure your progress.”

Charles Villa-Vicencio agrees. In his role as national research director of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he spent three years listening to hundreds of hours of testimony about the ghastly acts conducted under apartheid. Today, as executive director of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) in Cape Town, Villa-Vicencio is one of many celebrating how far South Africa has come. Yet, he is ever mindful of the distance still to go.

When he looks back at the fragile condition of the country 10 years ago — it was on the verge of bankruptcy and some wondered about the possibility of a civil war — Villa-Vicencio applauds the progress.

“We haven’t solved all our problems. We don’t all love one another, but neither are we killing one another and that’s actually quite important. It’s a time of celebration, but also a time to take stock of what has and has not happened.”

Mott has supported many initiatives to improve race relations in South Africa, including IJR’s “Learning to Live With Difference” project, which received a two-year, $66,500 grant in 2002 to reduce racial and religious tensions that surfaced after September 11, 2001, between Muslims and non-Muslim residents of the nation’s Western Cape province.

One of Villa-Vicencio’s biggest disappointments has been the glaring absence of churches in addressing the country’s problems. Instead of leading efforts to improve conditions for the poor, says the prominent South African theologian and author, the church is suffering from “post-apartheid fatigue.”

South Africa’s non-racial constitution allows new opportunities for young people

South Africa’s non-racial constitution allows new opportunities for young people.

While most church leaders boisterously protested policies of the apartheid government and were comfortable having an adversarial relationship with its leaders, they have found it difficult to criticize the African National Congress (ANC), the political party now in power, because it is viewed as their party, Villa-Vicencio said.

“It was easy to criticize our enemies, but criticizing our friends? That’s not so easy. It’s going to take time for churches to recognize that they have a responsibility to be the conscience of the rulers. That has always been the task of the church.”

In addition, says Villa-Vicencio, who is white, blacks have extended immense “grace” to whites in an effort to move toward racial reconciliation, while whites have been slow to share their financial resources as a way to promote economic justice.

“Whites like to push for reconciliation as an alternative to justice. But if reconciliation fails to address issues of economic justice, then that reconciliation is just ‘pie-in-the-sky.’ We’ve got to remember that some white people, who have a lot to lose, look for cheap reconciliation.”

One way South Africans have tried to share resources more equitably is through the development of indigenous grantmaking organizations, such as community foundations and private foundations.

In 1994, newly elected President Mandela made a public commitment to donate one-third of his presidential salary to establish a fund that would improve life for the country’s children. His actions challenged many people’s previously held notion that only the rich could be philanthropists, and resulted in many South Africans donating to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (NMCF) as a way to participate in his homegrown-giving philosophy.

In 2000, Mott provided a $2 million grant to NMCF to help launch its endowment-building campaign. This year, while sharing 10-year anniversary celebrations with the nation, the fund reached a milestone: Its endowment grew to $40 million. Now the fund is more financially independent and will be able to make grants for many years by spending only the interest earned on its assets.

When first established, the NMCF served as an organization that collected and disbursed money to other groups so they could address children’s needs. But since the NMCF’s new vision was adopted 1999 — “to change the way society treats children and youth” — the organization has become a leading programming and grantmaking organization in the country and on the continent.

Among other tasks, staff develops and implements effective pilot programs that address an array of social problems. The fund then advises other organizations on how best to replicate the programs elsewhere in South Africa and neighboring countries. When the 2003 fiscal year ended, the fund had made grants totaling $4.7 million for 67 projects.

At the NMCF, all programs are viewed from a child’s perspective but addressed in the context of family and community.

“It is our collective responsibility to do everything we can to safeguard the survival of the next generation,” said Sibongile Mkhabela, NMCF’s chief executive officer. “Instead of taking the child from the family, we strongly feel that you should strengthen the family and its capacity to look after the child. You can do that through the institutions that work in the community.”

Another way Mott has helped to strengthen South Africa’s nonprofit sector in general, and the field of philanthropy specifically, has been by funding the creation and development of community foundations, and organizations that support them, such as the Southern African Grantmakers Association (SAGA).

Since 1994, the Foundation has provided nine grants totaling just over $1 million to SAGA. Most of these were general-purpose grants used to help the organization develop internally and expand its work externally, but some grants were specifically earmarked for SAGA’s efforts to increase and strengthen the community foundation field in South Africa.

In addition to providing technical support, SAGA has provided a forum for South African community foundations to learn from each other, and from others in the field internationally. The philosophy for community philanthropy is simple: Pool local resources to meet local needs.

For the Greater Rustenburg Community Foundation (GRCF), two Mott grants totaling $400,000 made it possible for the organization to hire staff, pay operating expenses, support program development and make grants. When the community foundation held its public launch in 2000, nearly 1,000 people attended, including local business people, government officials and tribal chiefs — all of whom pledged to contribute to the organization’s success.

Located in the Northwest province of South Africa, where 80 percent of the 1.2 million people live in remote areas that often lack basic services, the GRCF successfully tapped two large platinum mining companies nearby to provide financial support and also to engage in public/private partnerships on a variety of projects. To date, the GRFC has made grants totaling $163,000 to 54 nonprofit organizations.

“Community foundations are key organizations that can create a sense of community and energize the spirit of community giving. They also develop organized philanthropy among ordinary people and corporate actors,” said Christine Delport, GRCF’s executive director.

The Uthungulu Community Foundation (UCF) was the second rural community foundation that Mott funded in South Africa. The UCF is located in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province, which is home to 2.2 million people, most of whom are black and live in poverty.

In addition to trying to build its permanent endowment beyond its current $1.5 million, UCF supports programs that create jobs and train residents to qualify for them, teach people how to grow vegetables to eat and sell, and address health issues such as HIV/AIDS. Since its first year of grantmaking in 2001, UCF has doubled the amount it provides for grants annually, awarding a total of $95,500 in 2003.

The community has kept its promise to support UCF, evidenced by the many prominent people who serve as its strongest promoters, including the king of the Zulu tribe.

“In community foundations, I see a return to the principles of traditional wealth which characterized a time in Africa when community members cared for one another, when one individual in a community would never be allowed to go without food or shelter,” said Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, patron of the UCF.

While Mott grantees represent a wide variety of programs and address many different issues, they all agree that South Africa’s public, private and nonprofit sectors need to work together to address the nation’s current challenges. They include:

  • an uneducated and unskilled workforce that keeps 40 percent of the nation’s 44 million people unemployed;
  • a high crime rate that imprisons many South Africans in their homes at night;
  • the daunting issue of HIV/AIDS;
  • an ever-growing gap between the haves and the have-nots; and
  • the ongoing struggle against racism.

Villa-Vicencio of the IJR applauded the international community’s intense interest in South Africa during the apartheid era and credited global partners with helping topple the racist system. Now, 10 years later, Villa-Vicencio pleads with the international community not to abandon South Africa because it is still at risk of faltering and continues to need outside support.

“Don’t let South Africa fail or all of Africa will go down the chute. Don’t walk away now. Help us through this transition period. Celebrate with us? Yes, but also monitor us and make darn sure we are addressing the specific issues that need to be addressed.”

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