Speaking at the SALDRU/African Centre of Excellence for Inequality Research (ACEIR) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) conference on inequalities in Southern Africa, civil society panellists Fumani Mthembi (Knowledge Pele), Masana Ndinga (CIVICUS), Gabriella Razzano (Open Democracy Advice Centre) & Lucesia Tilo (Young Urban Women), delivered superb inputs in a workshop titled, “The Role of Civil Society in Reducing Inequalities: Bringing Community Voice into Policy Making/the Debate”.
This civil society workshop highlighted ten challenges in the struggle against inequalities.
1. “Geography” (location) compounds inequality for people in townships, peri-urban and rural areas.
2. Townships, peri-urban and rural areas remain labour reserves with limited and extractive economic activity.
3. Patriarchy and the sexualisation of women is a major contributor to inequality.
4. The challenge that civil society and human rights activists face, working in civic spaces more broadly, is that they currently encounter unequal but rich societies in which states are spending more money on the interests of wealthy people. As a result, fewer resources are going towards public expenditure.
5. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been turned into a public relations exercise. In the development sector, impact is gauged by measuring changes over time, but no one asks these questions of corporations.
6. There is an anti-terrorism drive from international donors that currently imbues significant levels of funding today. The problem with this is that a number of NGOs and activists have been labelled “terrorists”.
7. The space for civic engagement is shrinking, as active citizenship faces repression in many parts of the world, including in democracies.
8. South African civil society is very insular. We think that our struggle is unique. It might be because of our trauma, but this inhibits solidarity beyond our borders.
9. There are sometimes issues with being South African and doing regional work. South Africa has lost “political street cred” because many regional partners are not interested in soapboxing from South Africans.
10. When NGOs are very urban and very white, there are real issues that emerge in terms of disproportionate power differentials between civil society NGOs and the communities that they serve.