Civil Society blues

Freshly excerpted (mostly) from NGO-pulse Issue 358. Charmaine Smith attended the Goedgedacht Forum for Social Reflection dialogue. She is the communication and knowledge manager of the Children’s Institute, UCT. A comprehensive report and presentations are available at

I believe this has relevance for civil society in Namibia –

In expressing concern over the ‘dismal signs of a failing state’, former MP and deputy chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, Dr Alex Boraine, highlighted that civil society now more than ever has an important function in South Africa’s (read Namibia) democracy:

“Against a power hungry state, civil society is called to play an ever increasing role in combatting this slide towards a one party state, and a state which is becoming increasingly unstable.”

Dr Borainne raised the alarm over civil society’s “diminishing role as watchdog” due to the tough economic climate. He reflected on especially the plight of advocacy organisations while, generally, he believed that ‘many organisations are in serious trouble’. Advocacy organisations are disappearing faster than the rest and that especially funds for networking were no longer forthcoming.

A recent survey among close to 700 South African nonprofit organisations in 2012 found that 80 percent of participants have experienced significant funding cuts over the previous year, and over 64 percent had to cut services to their beneficiaries.

The need for civil society–state collaboration alongside civil society’s watchdog role and the impact on this role by the state acting as a funder of nonprofit services are making it a complicated relationship that is often characterised by conflict. Inherent reasons for this conflict include:
  • competition for money due to overseas funding being channeled through the state;
  • civil society’s exposure of inadequacies of the state, which leads to antagonism;
  • competition for recognition between nonprofits and organs of the state; and
  • government’s perceived moves to regulate (silence?) the sector with restrictive legislation.

The question of who in civil society structures represents and speaks for whom came up throughout the dialogue, as did issues on self-regulation, accountability and the general lack of diverse representation in nonprofit organisations.

So any guesses as to what will happen to Namibia’s own EU funded Civil Society Foundation


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Posted in #namibia, #OpenSF, activism, africa, civil society, FOSSFA, ICT4D, Ict4e, innovation, namibian, schoolnet, tatejoris

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