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Regional themes > General Last update: 2020-06-05  

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2.1 The case for a regional NGO body in Southern Africa

SADC's linkages with the non-governmental community in Southern Africa will be strengthened when it officially recognises a regional Council of NGOs. SADC Ministers are soon to discuss a memorandum of understanding to regulate the relationship between SADC and the Council of NGO (CNGO). The long-awaited Southern African CNGO is scheduled to be launched officially in Malawi early next year.

The Council, which will link national umbrella NGO organisations, will develop programmes in the areas of policy capacity building and enhanced information management and dissemination amongst NGOs in the Southern African region. The council intends, through its national affiliates, to make poverty reduction at a regional and national level, a key focus of its activities.

There is a good case for a regional NGO council. When SADCC was established in Lusaka in 1980, NGO’s across the region wanted to be associated with SADC's regional co-operation initiatives. This interest was generated by the fact that almost all SADCC sectors of co-operation had elements, which were suitable for NGO intervention and involvement. However SADCC was a purely inter-governmental body which did not provide room for collaboration between itself and the NGO community. The relationship between SADCC institutions and the NGO’s of the region, where it existed, was rather lukewarm and very distant.

This changed with the establishment of the Southern African Development Community. SADC's founding treaty included specific references to NGO activity.

For example:

  1. In pursuance of the objectives of this treaty SADC shall seek to involve fully, the peoples of the region and Non Governmental Organizations in the process of regional integration.
  2. SADC shall cooperate with and support the initiatives of the peoples of the region and Non Governmental Organizations contributing to the objectives of this treaty in the are as of cooperation in order to foster closer relations among the communities, associations and peoples of the region.

At its meeting in August 1993, SADC Council of Ministers directed SADC institutions to ensure the full participation of NGOs in the activities of the organizations and ensure that NGOs attended all SADC meetings, except those of the Council of Ministers and Heads of State. With clear legally enabling instruments in place, NGOs felt encouraged to come forward and claim a role in the integration of the region. A series of regional NGO meetings were organized to clearly define a role for the NGO community.

Some NGOs had already established regional sectoral networks - notably in the areas of agriculture, food security, human rights. But no such networks existed in other sectors. As national NGOs agitated for a wider, regional role, they were equally aware of their limitations in the areas of skills and financial resources to address regional issues, specifically those of policy, democracy, good governance and human rights.

Against this background the Botswana Council of Non Governmental Organizations (BOCONGO) organized the Gaborone NGO conference in 1998. The goal of the conference was to broaden NGO participation in the regio nal integration process by developing a regional forum and structure that would interface with international organizations and partners. BOCONGO was nominated as the secretariat of the CNGO; in this role it has organised a number of CNGO meetings. Three were held this year – in South Africa, Zambia and in Harare – and were organised with the support of different partners.

As a result of these meetings an action plan was adopted which tentatively set the formal launch date for this month: but this has since been set back to early next year. A draft memorandum of understanding to regulate the council’s interaction with SADC was developed in January this year but could unfortunately not be finalised during the August 2001 Heads of State Summit. But we remain confident that this will be finalised soon.

The following can be seen as the main objectives of the Council of NGOs.

  • To provide a forum for NGOs in the SADC region to develop common positions on areas of concern and to petition governments for better enabling environments for NGOs at national and regional levels; a better enabling environment will improve NGO effectiveness and efficiency across the region.
  • To represent NGO interests at SADC institutions and other bilateral arrangements and meetings with international cooperating partners.
  • To collect and disseminate information on the activities of NGOs throughout the region, in order to influence national and SADC policies and resource utilisation towards people-centered development; and to facilitate the process of sharing information, experiences and NGO best practice amongst civil society organisations.
  • To develop civil society inputs in the formulation of policies that influence regional co-operation and integration and to represent the views and interests of NGO clients across the region. The Council will also jointly identify with SADC structures and governments sectors where development and delivery may be best tackled by NGOs, even where NGOs have to use resources raised by or through Governments.
  • To organize policy discussion workshops and research papers on the basis of which the SADC-CNGO can rally NGOs across the region around key issues of concern. These can include democracy, good governance, human rights, poverty reduction and unemp loyment.
  • To prepare position papers on issues relating to the abuse of human rights, corruption, and war and peace for consideration by SADC’s Summit.
  • To develop protocols and Memoranda of Understanding to advance the interests of civil society with key intergovernmental bodies and other co-operating partners across the region. This would include the access of NGO bodies to SADC institutions.

† Meanwhile, SADC's executive secretary, Dr Prega Ramsamy, has said that the role and contribution of NGOs in the region was most noticeable in the areas of community-based natural resource management and environmental conservation, sustainable agriculture, education and training, gender issues, health, HIV/AIDS and small scale development enterprise. He said that SADC was eager to benefit from NGO's innovative, flexible and responsive approaches to development issues and their ability to ensure grassroots involvement in the development process.

Linking up: This article was contributed by Bocongo. Persons or NGOs wanting further details on the Council of NGOs can contact Bocongo at

2.2 Regional networking on poverty and environmental issues

NetWise is a non-governmental organisation based in Windhoek, Namibia, with strong links to the Desert Research Foundation of Namibia (DRFN). Netwise and the DRFN have successfully harnessed the power of the Internet in the fight for sustainable environmental management and pro-poor policy interventions in the SADC region. Lessons from its experience can be usefully considered by other regional networks.

The aim of DRFN/NetWise is to support capacity building in Southern Africa to ensure the wise custodianship of the environment by communities, governments and individuals. It does this by maintaining a regional partnership network, which contributes to information exchange about sustainable natural resource management between countries, communities and the scientific sector. DRFN/NetWise provides improved access to information about training opportunities, research findings, development programmes and organisations relating to all aspects of natural resource management.

The DRFN is an independent, non- governmental organisation dedicated to sustainable use of Namibia's environment and includes a centre for Arid Land Studies that conducts and facilitates appropriate participatory and applied short- and long term research on the environment. The DRFN/NetWise partnership is centred at the website:; this site contains a wide range of information as well as a directory of organisations, institutions, and individuals that work within the natural resource management field. Members focus on government, non-government, private, academic, research or development activities but generally have information, skills and experiences to exchange with others. Through the network, Netwise aims to strengthen the capacity of local communities so that they may engage with poverty issues surrounding sustainable environmental management.

DRFN/NetWise has helped bridge the gap between grassroots, community actors and the research, education and scientific sectors by providing a means for disseminating information along what might be regarded as horizontally and vertical channels across the region. NetWise employs a method whereby selected Primary Partners throughout the SADC region network with Secondary Partners to ensure that information is widely disseminated.

For example, Namibia’s Programme to Combat Desertification (Napcod) aims to enhance drought preparedness amongst Namibian farmers, both communal and commercial, as well as other key players such as diverse service organisations. It focuses on combating land degradation and desertification through the direct involvement and co-operation of local communities and service providers. Napcod is run by DRFN and the Namibian Economic Policy Research Unit (Nepru) which is a lespected public policy research institute in Namibia.

NAPCOD supports communities to develop their capacity to identify and solve the problems that affect them directly. NetWise, originally a project funded by Sida (from 1997-2001), has now become an integrated component of DRFN’s communication unit. DRFN/NetWise passes information, which it believes may be useful to communities, to Napcod (as the primary partner) for distribution to communities; in return Napcod passes back information which it has gained through its interaction and work with their partners. For example, Napcod recently completed a report on the first approximation of desertification in Namibia; this report was made available to partners via the DRFN website.

In addition, DRFN/NetWise has been researching the use of Internet communication tools for enhancing its regional and national networking activities. A recent exercise examined the use of ‘Chatrooms’ for ‘virtual’ workshops. DRFN/NetWise explored available options and organised a virtual workshop to trial the use of this technology. Partners throughout the SADC region were invited to participate and to submit comments on its impact. Mixed reactions were received and as a result it was decided that the use of Chatrooms (such as the one trialled) were not an easy solution to overcoming networking barriers across the SADC region. Further information on this point can be obtained from the DRFN/NetWise website.

DRFN/NetWise has now found an alternate virtual networking platform that seems to overcome many of the problems experienced in the trialled chatroom. This platform uses the participant’s Internet interface (i.e. web browser) for access to its facilities and thus has many more information sharing options available. For example, it allows easy simultaneous access to and discussion of documents; this provides partners, across the region, with the ability to work on proposals co-operatively without emailing versions back and forth. It also supports webcams and voice-over facilities so that in the future, participants will be able to both see and hear each other. The DRFN will be offering these new networking services (on a cost recovery basis) to interested organisations in the near future.

In summary, DRFN/NetWise has gained many valuable experiences in regard to networking among highly dispersed and variably skilled partners. DRFN NetWise would be extremely happy to share the range of valuable lessons that they have picked up in this new area in the fight against poverty.

Linking up: This article was contributed by Georgie Frohlich of DRFN/Netwise in Namibia. DRFN can be reached at while its website can be accessed at

2.3 Beauty and the Beast: The two faces of regional development strategy

Imagine yourself in the mythical African country of Sundae, which has for many years received assistance from NORDIDA, the development agency of the European country of Nordic. This agency has always had strong development policies focused on poverty reduction and gender equality. Life has therefore become increasingly difficult for NORDIDA, with poverty increasing rapidly under the rule of the People’s Patriarchal Party.

So the newly arrived NORDIDA representative in Sundae, Ms Sympathy Egalitarian, is very intrigued to hear about plans for a new Regional Poverty Alleviation Programme being planned by the Global Bank. So she arranges to meet with the local Bank Representative, Dr Economical Technocrat, to hear more about it, and to see how NORDIDA might contribute.

‘From what I’ve heard so far,’ said Sympathy, as she sat down for a cup of tea with Economical, ‘‘this is just the sort of larger programme we have been looking for. You know the NORDIDA programme in Sundae is running at about $4 million a year. But being a small agency, we simply do not have the administrative capacity to monitor the proper utilization of funds. Much of our funding finishes up being used as perks for senior officials, rather than for the intended grassroots development.’’

‘That’s where we can help,’ said Economical. ‘We are putting together basket funding, so that each of the various contributing agencies can support their preferred component in selected countries. With all our past experience in the planning and implementation of multi-sector and multi-agency projects, you can rest assured that your funds will be properly utilized and supervised. A regional programme in ten countries enables much more efficient ways of planning and supervision.’

‘You see,’ said Sympathy, ‘we have found that much of rural poverty, especially amongst female headed household in rural areas, arises from entrenched discrimination against women in access to land, labour and credit. We want to support action on a range of crucial issues which stand in the way of a more equitable distribution of wealth, especially in the area of gender inequity.’

‘I do understand,’ said Economical, adopting a kindly and fatherly tone, ‘that you come from rather a socialist country. But there is a severe limit on how much you can pursue such policies here. According to our Assistance Agreement with Sundae, the Bank’s role is to support government policy, which is concerned with enabling entrepreneurship, capital accumulation and foreign investment. We can’t discriminate in favour of men.’

‘Well,’ gulped Sympathy, ‘I am not saying that NORDIDA is trying to force Sundae to become another Nordic. But you have to admit, if we are going to reduce poverty, we have the options of either increasing production, or more equitable distribution. And recent Sundial economic history shows a steady declining production, per capita, over the past then years…’

‘Well, of course in principle, between the two of us, I can agree with you. But as far as this regional development programme is concerned, as the title reveals, it is about Poverty Alleviation, not Poverty Reduction. Because of the misapplication of structural adjustment programmes by most of the governments in this region, we now have pressing problems of destitution, starvation and disease.’

‘So it’s more a programme of humanitarian aid?’

‘Exactly. But we call it development, because nobody wants to use words that give a bad name to structural adjustment.’

‘Even so,’ persisted Sympathy, ‘if we are putting in the money, maybe we can fund a more developmental corner within a programme which is mainly humanitarian. After all, if you are , your programme will need to progress in a more developmental direction. We could use our position to focus on the important gender issues which stand in the way of development, such as male control of land, and robbing widows of their marriage property …’

‘Half a minute,’ laughed Economical, ‘we have to work within the existing societies, their traditions and norms. If we try to upset their traditions, the whole programme will be at risk. Some of the governments around here haven’t even ratified the Women’s Convention. Neither for that matter has the United States, which is our main source of funding…’

‘But surely,’ interrupted Sympathy, ‘if you have a regional programme, it needs to be informed by a regional strategy of identifying the pattern of major issues and obstacles which stand in the way of development, and then developing appropriate strategies focused on these very issues. If we could piggy-back on your programme, we could reach all the major women’s NGOs in the region, and build their capacity for direct action on selected gender issues which stand in the way…’

‘But governments are our cooperating partners. We are prepared to work with some NGOs, provided they are not anti-government, and are able to provide support or supplement government services. We cannot get into political mobilization, we are a non-political organization. We certainly can’t get involved in fomenting antigovernment NGOs to oppose and undermine government’s efforts.’

‘OK, Perhaps my suggestions were a bit radical. But explain to me how you take advantage of a regional multilateral programme to develop a more focused regional strategy. Or is it just national strategy replicated on a larger scale?’

‘Not mere replication, because it takes advantage of economies of scale. That is our strategy. We save the duplication of efforts by different agencies, enabling specialization in monitoring and evaluation, fuller utilization of expertise, and standardised accounting procedures. So everybody is better off. We are concerned with the application of known and proven interventions, involving humanitarian service delivery and capacity building for entrepreneurship. The problem is not how to intervene, but how to do it effectively and efficiently.’

‘What is your gender strategy?’

‘All our staff are gender trained, and we do everything in a very gender sensitive way.’

‘It seems to me,’ said Sympathy with a sigh, ‘that you have your own corporate strategy, but no development strategy.’

‘That’s an interesting distinction,’ laughed Economical.

‘And I wonder if your corporate strategy,’ said Sympathy, ‘is less concerned with development, and more concerned with orchestrating and controlling the bilateral agencies.’

‘I know you’re new here,’ laughed Economical. ‘You’ll soon get the hang of it.’

‘I’m learning fast,’ said Sympathy.

Linking up: This article was contributed by Roy Clarke, who is based in Lusaka. Roy Clarke works as a consultant in the area of gender and development, in partnership with Sara Hlupekile Longwe. He can be reached at sara&

2.4 A farm-workers network for Southern Africa?

Representatives from nine countries have been tasked with examining the viability of establishing a network around farm worker's rights in Southern Africa. This follows a major recent conference in Harare organised by the Farm Community Trust of Zimbabwe. The aim of the nascent network is to “enhance and add the voice of farm workers' issues in regional debate, especially in the current period where the region is going through a process of land reform”.

Membership would be drawn from all NGOs who share an interest in issues related to farm workers. The conference recognised that some regional networks did operate around land and poverty issues; thus the proposed network would examine the extent to which its focus could be accommodated by existing networks. If this were not possible then the proposed network would proceed with its establishment.

The Harare conference elected an interim committee with representatives drawn from Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique and Botswana. The interim committee has been given a mandate to:

  • Draw up a policy paper on the status of farm workers in the region
  • Fund raise for a planned conference
  • Develop a draft programme of action

Develop specific campaign issues around farm workers including themes of tenure, citizenship, gender, social grants and pensions, education of farm workers and how farm workers could be recognised as a clear constituency in land reform policies.

Linking up: The SARPN web site carries both the conference report and the conference communiquй. They can be accessed at:

The conference organiser was Godfrey Magaramombe of the Farm Community Trust of Zimbabwe; he can be contacted at:

In addition, the Oxfam www contains the paper presented to the conference by the respected analyst Robin Palmer; it can be accessed at

His paper dealt with:

  • Issues of labour migration within Southern Africa in the 20th century
  • The vulnerability, isolation and invisibility of farm workers in the region
  • The changes in the treatment of farm workers and xenophobia caused by recent political trends relating to land tenure systems.

2.5 A profile of South African civil society

Two South African research institutions (Idasa and Core) have just released the results of a major study on the state of civil society organisations (CSOs) in South Africa. This research was commissioned by Civicus International, through SANGOCO as part of a broader assessment of the health of civil society across the globe. The project focused on a subjective assessment of the health of civil society in South Africa, as perceived by civil society organisations themselves. Respondents and NGOs were questioned on issues around structure, space, values and impact. In brief the results cover the following areas:


  1. CSO's run their programmes and projects in:
    1. Metropolitan areas (40%)
    2. Small Urban areas (44%)
    3. Informal settlements in urban areas (34%)
    4. Informal settlements in rural areas (27%)
    5. Rural areas (52%)
  2. CSO's deliver services mainly to ordinary citizens (75%) and community leaders (60%)
  3. 75% of the organisations indicated that they were a member of SANGOCO
  4. 61% of the respondents felt that their organisation was representative of the South African population
  5. 78% said that there was not enough co-operation among CSO's
  6. CSO's, generally, are too dependent on donor funding


  1. 66% of the organisations indicated they had an active membership base
    1. Individuals (19%)
    2. Groups or Organisations (19%)
    3. Both Individuals and Groups (28%)
  2. 8% of the organisations were not registered at all
  3. 38% are registered as a Section 21 not- for-profit company
  4. 36% are registered as a Non-profit organisation (with the Dept. of Welfare under the NPO Act of 1997)
  5. 36% believed the registration process was difficult
  6. Most of the organisations worked with Local Government (92%) and Provincial Government Departments (90%)
  7. Types of programmes and projects
    1. Fighting HIV and AIDS (80%)
    2. Education (78%)
    3. Welfare (75%)
    4. Health (74%)


  1. Respondent's relationship with government
    1. Co-operative (54%)
    2. Critical (27%)
  2. 71% said that CSO's do not adequately represent ordinary citizens
  3. 91% reported to control and monitor their expenses fairly well /very well
  4. 43% of the organisations make their financial records and reports publicly available on request
  5. 58% felt that the RSA government was handling human rights issues very well / fairly well
  6. In terms of staff diversity:
    1. 55% have a gender policy in place
    2. 45% have a race policy
    3. 36% a disability policy


  1. 68% of the respondents indicated that CSO's did not have sufficient influence over government
  2. 70% said that CSO's also have insufficient influence over parliament
  3. 81% of the organisations reported to have had seminars and workshops with government officials and legislators
  4. 34% said that their involvement with seminars and workshops with government officials and legislators had an impact on the policy process
  5. 36% of the organisations indicated an impact on White or Green Paper processes
  6. 53% of the organisations indicated they had sufficient access to the media
  7. 70% of the organisations felt that the media had a positive impact on the work that they perform

Linking up: For further information on the project and its findings contact

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