Hundreds picket outside Gauteng social development offices

Protest highlights the catastrophic mess the department has made of funding for non-profit organisations

By Masego Mafata

17 May 2024

Beneficiaries and staff from non-profit organisations across the province picketed outside the Gauteng Department of Social Development over delays in paying their subsidies. Photo: Masego Mafata

“Our organisation is on the verge of closure. We don’t even have money to buy food and most of our beneficiaries depend solely on the organisation,” says Dineo Khumalo from the Johannesburg Society for the Blind.

Khumalo joined hundreds of frustrated staff from various non-profit organisations serving vulnerable communities outside the Gauteng Department of Social Development (DSD) offices in Johannesburg on Friday morning. The picket was organised by Gauteng Care Crisis Committee, a voluntary group.

The organisations are demanding the immediate payment of subsidies. Organisations GroundUp spoke to at the picket said they were yet to receive any funds or any updates on when they would receive funds.

On Tuesday, Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi promised to reverse cuts to the department’s budget, pay the subsidies by 24 May, and review complaints about service-level agreements.

Shelters, children’s homes and disability organisations are among the organisations that have had to close or cut services because of the funding delays.

Amid chants of “Away with Lesufi, away with Hlophe [the social development MEC]” and “Away with empty promises”, picketers called for an end to what they say is neglect and disregard for their essential work.

The Johannesburg Society for the Blind is one of many organisations yet to receive a service-level agreement.

“We submitted all the reports, the business plan; they have everything. But we haven’t heard from them, and we don’t know if we will be funded this year. We have about 70 people in our residential facility. We’ve been struggling to make sure that we have enough food for them. If it wasn’t for donations, we would have nothing to feed them,” said Khumalo.

Zubeda Dangor, of the National Shelter Movement of South Africa, condemned the department’s failure to protect women in a country with very high rates of gender-based violence. The funding crisis that has led to the closure of domestic violence shelters and facilities for people with disabilities.

Mamiki Ramaphakela of the Gauteng Care Crisis Committee said, “Enough is enough with DSD playing games with vulnerable citizens of this province.”

According to Lisa Vetten, the committee chairperson, no shelters for women within the committee have received service-level agreements yet.

A memorandum of demands was read by representatives from the coalition. Demands included: meaningful consultation around processes and procedures that impact on the organisations’ work; costing services in accordance with legislated norms and standards and providing adequate budgets for quality services; the need to develop a funding model in accordance with national policy; the department to release a report on the forensic audits it instituted to investigate corruption.

Khosi Radebe, Social Development acting director of stakeholder relations, signed the memorandum before calling the acting head of the department, Bongani Ngomani, to address picketers.

Ngomani reiterated Lesufi’s promises saying the 2024/25 budget was “increased from R1.7-billion to R2.4-billion”.

“We are in the process of paying all those who have been allocated funding. Our staff will be working over the weekend to process these payments”.

But some picketers chanted, “We are hungry”, as he spoke.

The coalition requested a public apology from Ngomani and the department, to which Ngomani ceded.

“We apologise for any inconvenience and trauma. We are working with yourselves to solve this problem,” Ngomani said.

The coalition is planning to take urgent legal action against the department to ensure, amongst other things, that payments are made an order of the court.