Gauteng government pays shelters after receiving letter of demand

The payments were withheld due to municipal non-compliance, causing shelters to shut down

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At least two women’s shelters have had to close after the Gauteng Department of Social Development did not pay their subsidies in the last financial year. The subsidies were paid on Wednesday after a letter of demand was sent the previous day. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

  • Several women’s shelters had their Gauteng Department of Social Development funding withheld last year due to newly enforced compliance requirements.
  • The money was paid on Wednesday after the Gauteng Care Crisis Committee sent a letter of demand to the department, arguing the compliance requirements are irrational.
  • But the shelters remain closed because they don’t know whether they will be funded for the 2024/25 financial year.

Outstanding subsidies from the last financial year have unexpectedly been paid by the Gauteng Department of Social Development to several gender-based violence shelters. The subsidies had been withheld due to non-compliance with new requirements imposed by the department.

The requirements relate to organisations’ adherence to municipal building and safety rules.

The gap in the shelters’ finances caused by subsidies not being paid, and the uncertainty over whether they would receive future funds from the department, has caused at least two organisations to close their shelters.

Wednesday’s payments came after the Gauteng Care Crisis Committee, a voluntary group of 67 non-profit organisations in the province, had sent a letter of demand to the department the previous day. The crisis committee had raised several issues, including the use of municipal non-compliance to withhold subsidies.

Organisations GroundUp spoke to argue that adherence to the municipal compliance requirements is expensive and time-consuming. And instead of supporting womens’ shelters — some of which have been operating for decades — to become compliant, the department simply withheld funding.

“We haven’t been taking in new clients. All of this could have been avoided if they had paid us [the subsidies] a month or two ago,” said Nisaa Institute for Women’s Development programmes manager Sima Diar.

Nisaa, whose shelter programme kept women and their children safe from abuse and other dangerous situations, had six months of funding withheld in the last financial year and has closed its shelter.

Executive Director of People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), Thoko Buduza, told GroundUp she is receiving multiple calls a day from women who need help to be rescued from abusive environments, but there is nothing they can do.

Uncertainty about the future of their department funding forced POWA to retrench 74 staff. Many of the staff members are continuing to volunteer for the organisation, said Buduza.

POWA only has one client left at one of their two shelters. The woman is heavily pregnant after being raped and baby is due any day, said Buduza. POWA’s two shelters used to accommodate up to 137 women and their children.

Both Nisaa and POWA received the withheld 2023/24 financial year’s subsidies on Wednesday, even though their compliance status had not changed.

The adjudication of funding applications for the 2024/25 financial year, which started on 1 April, has taken longer than expected and most organisations still do not know if they will receive subsidies for the current year.

The department has committed to provide all funded organisations with their service-level agreements by the end of April, but for many organisations, April is too late.

Meanwhile, R223-million has been cut from the department’s budget for non-profit organisation funding for the 2024/25 financial year.

“Irrational” compliance requirements

Nissa was found non-compliant in terms of municipal building compliance. They were suddenly dropped from the department’s list of registered GBV shelters without notice last year, and their last two quarterly tranches of subsidies for 2023/24 were not paid.

Diar said the compliance process with the department has been going on for about three years. “Every time we come to a point where we think we have everything in order, there’s something else we need to do,” said Diar.

One example was a JoJo rainwater tank the department donated to Nisaa. When the municipal fire compliance inspectors came to the site, they said the rainwater tank had to be connected to the fire hose with sufficient pressure. This would have required Nisaa to spend at least R70,000 to buy an inverter or generator to provide the required water pressure.

In another instance, the department required Nisaa provide a Public Health Permit for accommodation establishments. The City of Johannesburg said this was not necessary, but the department insisted, and only backed down after a meeting with the City.

Diar said Nisaa has spent about R300,000 on becoming compliant. The department not paying subsidies was the last nail in the coffin for the organisation which has been providing services for 30 years.

POWA, which was founded in 1974, was told they were not compliant because they did not have an executive director and only an assistant director.

Buduza was then appointed executive director, which was initially accepted by the department, but they later took issue with Buduza not having a social work qualification. Buduza says she has a master’s degree in public health.

Social Development crisis

The Department of Social Development did not respond to GroundUp’s questions about the payments made to the womens’ shelters, or the withheld subsidies.

In previous communication about the uncertainty over funding allocations, department spokesperson Themba Gadebe said he found it “bizarre” that organisations were confused.

Gadebe and Gauteng MEC for Social Development Mbali Hlophe have both made disparaging public comments about Lisa Vetten, the chairperson of the Gauteng Care Crisis Committee, accusing her of working with the Democratic Alliance to stir anxiety among organisations.

After GroundUp reported the closure of the Epworth Children’s Home in Germiston due to the lack of subsidy payments, Hlophe claimed in an interview with Newzroom Afrika that Epworth was trying to win sympathy so they could jump the funding queue.

A forensic investigation into dodgy non-profit organisation funding by the department is ongoing, and at least 13 officials have been suspended. Independent adjudication panels were set up, supposedly to prevent fraud, but this appears to have caused a delay in the ajudication process.

The crisis at the Department of Social Development extends beyond non-profit organisation funding. News24 reported on Wednesday that more than 300 young people employed by the department’s Nasi iSpani (‘here is a job’ in isiZulu) mass youth employment programme, had not been paid since starting work in February.

GroundUp reported in March that R83.4-million was diverted from the social service budget to fund the Nasi iSpani programme.

TOPICS:  Social Development mismanagement

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