People on the Move

Wednesday, 20 June, 2007 - 12:49

SANGOCO's Zanele Twala Secures Top Post in Action Aid

Zanele Twala, head of the South African NGO Coalition (SANGOCO), has been appointed as Country Director of Action Aid International’s South Africa office. She takes up her new post in July 2007. Twala took some time out to reflect on her three years at SANGOCO providing us with some interesting insights into the changing nature of this umbrella body that always attracts much interest within South African civil society.

A Global Perspective
According to Twala, in recent years SANGOCO has gone through a transformation that has resulted in its growth and fortification along a specific path.  It has positioned itself as an advocacy and campaigning organisation in a deliberate attempt to deal with external factors, in particular, the world order and global economic issues that are having a profound effect on South Africa and the changing nature of the South African NGO sector.

Twala argues that the impact of globalisation has been both positive and negative for South Africa and SANGOCO’s focus has been on trying to leverage financial, human and physical resources to assist the poor within the context of working in a middle income country that is faced with a huge development challenge. SANGOCO is particularly keen on challenging corporate self-interest, which continues to mire masses of South Africans in poverty.

She points out that although this may seem like a new trajectory for the organisation, SANGOCO has always been concerned about and absorbed by the impact of the external environment on the country and its implications for civil society’s work.

Twala does however concede that SANGOCO’s capacity to service South African NGOs’ internal institutional development needs has changed. It now focuses on issues which are considered to be unfunded mandates, for example, working with refugees.

Nevertheless, Twala argues that the shifting ideological framework within which civil society is working has affected the nature of substantive debates within the sector. Using the issue of governance as an example, she argues that the current discourse on governance doesn’t sufficiently reflect upon ethical principles of human rights. Instead governance is conflated with compliance with little regard for the violation of values.

Making Sense of Mandate
Be that as it may, Twala was probed about who SANGOCO gets its mandate from in an effort to clarify who exactly its members are. Ongoing membership of the organisation is not reliant upon members paying annual fees or renewing their annual membership in any other manner. This has been a perplexing point for many as it creates confusion about what exactly constitutes an active membership base and raises a whole different set of questions related to accountability.

Twala responded firstly, that SANGOCO gets its mandate from its members – a membership base that has changed substantially over the years and is now more reflective of community based organisations (CBOs). She argued further that SANGOCO continues to have direct accountability to groups that it works with in the sector, like the trade justice groups, environmental justice networks and HIV and Aids networks. These are organisations that are working at the coal face of development and deeply rooted in dealing with the direct impact of poverty in communities. Membership is not only judged on payment but also on active participation in the work of the organisations, meaning the membership is a mixture of paid and unpaid members. 

The Devil in the Detail
Nevertheless, Twala contends that many of the CBOs that SANGOCO works with are not organisations that can be defined or understood in the traditional sense. For example, many of the CBOs listed on SANGOCO’s North West Province database are affiliated with SANGOCO in the province and do not have offices, however, they co-ordinate the work of communities, from existing centres of the state.
In Twala’s view, given the changing context of the world that we live in, the definition of the concept of what constitutes an NGO requires further interrogation. She asks: what is an NGO?

A question that SANGOCO seems to be grappling with and is taking steps to try and resolve. A key focus for the organisation going forward will be its partnership with Guidestar or the South African chapter, which has been registered as Inkanyezi Guidestar.

Inkanyezi Guidestar will provide SANGOCO with an online platform which houses information about 60,000 non-profit organisations in South Africa. The database will comprise information about organisations sourced from the National Department of Social Development (50,000) and the balance from other sources.

According to Twala, Guidestar has the potential to provide great clarity about the scope, nature and focus of the South African non-profit sector as it is more than a simple database. It will also host financial reporting information about NGOs as well as NGO profiles and other bits of useful information that will help paint a clearer picture of the South African NGO sector.

Looking ahead to her new job as head of Action Aid South Africa, Twala says that she is keen to support the work of South African NGOs involved in development from a human rights perspective. In her own words, she wants to give money to South African organisations, particularly grassroots organisations, as she has seen too much suffering at this level and wants to intervene where Action Aid’s support will have direct and tangible results.

- Fazila Farouk, Editor, SANGONeT.

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