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Ndlovu, Molefi Mafereka  () A layman’s perspective on the history and role of non governmental organizations in the World Social Forum Process: a case of the Southern African Social Forum.. Centre for Civil Society : 1-13.

In this paper I will do the following; provide my understanding of definition for the notion of NGOs, outline the South African Legal definition as discussed by Ismail Davids his article: The strategic role of development NGOs (2005), then I will then discuss the relationship between NGOs and other development sectors such as the national governments and then and international donor organizations. My assessment will focus mainly on South Africa. Then; reading Hulmes, I will give a brief account on the international scene under which NGOs operate in light of the changing global situation. In the third part of the paper, I will attempt to illustrate some of my observations using my recent experience of the Southern African Social Forum held in Malawi during October 2006; as a case study. I will then conclude by exploring the dynamics between NGOs donor interests and the effects on grassroots spaces. Outlining some of the key strengths and weaknesses of NGO’s.

Davids notes that many non governmental organizations emerged due to the inabilities and failures of state departments to provide essential life sustaining services to impoverished communities. Reasons vary from chronic corruption to state repression. The private sector has often been driven by selfish interests of profiteering rather than contributing to the alleviation of poverty in the large part of the globe. (ibid1:p67) This has led to the identification of a “third sector” whose main focus is on poverty alleviation, strengthening civil society as well as encouraging of grassroots organizations in the process of development.

The definition of an NGO is: a private, self governing, none profit organization, which promotes people-centered development approaches some theorists have made distinctions between CBO and NGO. CBO: have clear membership base, they have elected leadership, and their role is localized to the concerns of a specific geographically defined constituency. (Pieterse & Simone 1994) NGO: are service organizations, with paid staff and deliver a specific service to an identifiable constituency, usually CBO and other organizations. These organizations are accountable to their donors as well as the communities they work with. Their main goal is help developing communities and individuals so as to encourage sustainable development at a grassroots level. Since mid 1990s the re has been a categorization of NGOs and CBOs as Not for Profit Organizations (NPOs) in terms of South African Legal and policy definitions (see The Non-Profit organizations Act of 1997, CT, RSA)

This definition has assisted in drawing a clearer distinction between entities in “civil society”, that is, the difference between the third sector (NPOs) and the private sector-business. In South Africa the legal definition of NPO can be found in the Non-profit organization ACT of 1997, which states that: “ A trust, company, or other association of persons established for a public purpose and income and property of which are not distributable to its members or office bearers except in reasonable compensation for services rendered.” pg 68.This definition has been further expounded in the Taxation Laws Amendment Act of 2000 where the concept of “public good” was further defined through the notion of public benefit associations which are defined as: “ an organization engaged in public benefit activities- these activities have not yet been defined by the legislation.(ibid6.68)

The emergence of NGOs in Africa has been traced to the days of colonial occupation, these organizations mainly acted as colonial welfare associations. Many Africans used these organizations as introduction to the urban lifestyle as well as a space where they could articulate their aspirations which materialized into solid political and social demands.
Since the attainment of political independence in most African countries, the role and number of NGOs has increased more rapidly than in Asia or Latin America.

NGOs are still seen as possible alternatives to government in addressing the needs of communities which are often neglected by official development programs.(ibid7:68) Davids quoting Brown and Korten (1989:1) outline four major reasons for the rapid growth in NGOs:

a) The growing interest from international donors and national governments, to increase the abilities of institutions that are functioning outside the formal public sector which are working directly with poor constituencies.

b) National governments see NGOs as a cost effective alternative to heavy government development programs.

c) NGOs are increasingly displaying their ability to mobilize large sums of money.

d) An acknowledgment that NGOs have advocated for and started national campaigns and projects that have influenced central government policies and institutions. (ibid8:69)

Some of the shared characteristics of developmental NGOs include:

NGOs do not have a profit motive, NGOs are institutionally independent from government, and most NGOs are characterized by voluntary association of those who share the NGOs developmental goals. Most NGO activities are financed through grants from donors (both national and international donors). Davids also highlights some traits of successful NGOs as those that: focus on one area of focus, they consciously employ staff that identify with the poor. The way in which they are administered is more users friendly and flexible and the approach to development is incremental as well as creative. These NGOs take note of the needs of the constituency they serve as well as find effective ways to ensure participation of affected groups in the planning, design and execution of projects. They also tactfully merge social issues with economic issues. (Bebbingtton. A & Riddell R: 2003)

There are however, some weaknesses with NGOs as organizations, these include:
1. Many NGO projects do not effectively or widely reach the poor. Most NGO projects end at the level of municipal/ ward councilors, traditional leaders and the luminaries of community projects in local areas.
2. Many NGO projects are no different from public sector projects, rigid and inflexible.
3. Many NGO activities are sectored and often are unable to provide holistic responses to developmental challenges of affected communities.
4. NGOs are not self-reliant organizations because their activities are financed by grants from donors and very little support from national governments.
5. There is a lack of coordination of the activities of different NGO in common areas; there has been duplication and lack of the ability to gage the extent of macro-level development in areas attracting NGO development activities.

Despite these weaknesses, international donor organizations are encouraging NGOs to multiply in Africa, through ever greater amounts in the form of donor funds. These Agencies are of the opinion that it is better to channel funds into NGOs rather than traditional development agencies in the public sector. The Relationship of NGOs to government. It is important to note that NGOs do not exist in a vacuum. The policies of the government can advance or limit the activities of NGOs. Despite these weaknesses, international donor organizations are encouraging NGOs to multiply in Africa, through ever greater amounts in the form of donor funds. These Agencies are of the opinion that it is better to channel funds into NGOs rather than traditional development agencies in the public sector (it is cost effective and with less bureaucratic procedures).

Let us now examine how the foreign donor/ African NGO Relationship affect that of the NGOs to government. It is important to note that NGOs do not exist in a vacuum. The policies of the government can advance or limit the activities of NGOs. NGOs have proliferated in the last half of the twentieth century. They are employers and sometimes disburse social welfare. (Goyder. H: 1994 p54)

The amount of funding NGOs attract has substantially increased. NGOs have become very influential in the policy arena and mass media. This raises a question whether the greater funding has led to NGO and Northern funding organizations being closer in term of their values, interests, methods and priorities. What have been the effects of this relationship on the developing country states particularly African post colonial states? Parallel to this increase in overall numbers has been the growth of some individual NGOs to cover the provision of health, education and credit services to millions of people in thousands of communities, especially in South Asia.
The public image of NGOs and Grassroots Organizations has amplified in recent times. The rise of NGOs and GROs in the world scene is important because; It has impact on the development prospects of poor people, the programming priorities of these NGO/GRO and the general political economy. The global rise of NGOs is not an accident neither is it exclusively a result of local initiatives and voluntary action. Since the end of the Cold War, development policy and aid transfers have come to be dominated by what is called the

This raises the question of how has the closer relationship with Northern funding organizations impacted on NGO/ grassroots community relations? In order to illustrate this i would like us to consider the case of the Southern African Social Forum.

Short report compiled by Molefi Ndlovu
Thirteen Southern African countries were from Friday 15 October to Sunday 17 October participating in the Malawi Social Forum activities held under the theme “Another Malawi is Possible.” Malawi Social Forum is affiliated to Southern Africa Social Forum, which is also affiliated to African Social Forum (African Union), which in turn is affiliated to the World Social Forum. There will be no Africa Social Forum this year and the preparations for the World Social Forum will be done at regional level working hand in hand with the Africa Social Forum Council. Through collective seminars and workshops which focuses on the following sub themes among others: Poverty eradication; Governance; constitutional reforms, democracy; HIV/AIDS; Education, other forms of organizing, gender the continued ferminization of African poverty as well as concerns of the young.

The Southern Africa Social Forum was held in Malawi's capital city, Lilongwe, Civo Stadium brought together civil society groups from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, Mauritius, South Africa and Malawi. Close to 2000 people participated in discussions about trade, food security, governance, gender, human rights and HIV/AIDS.

The Social Forum is not an organization, not a united front platform, but "…an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and inter-linking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neo-liberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a society centered on the human person". (From the WSF Charter of Principles).

The World Social Forum is an open meeting place where social movements, networks, NGOs and other civil society organizations opposed to neo-liberalism ... gather to discuss and share common responses. The forum was divided into 10 clusters where comrades discussed debt and trade, food security, HIV and Aids, governance, gender, art and culture, education, labor and media ... The forum in Malawi was part of the preparations for the peoples of Southern Africa on the way to the World Social Forum that will be held in Nairobi between January 20 and 25 next year. Blantyre Archdiocese Justice and Peace Coordinator Aloysius Nthenda, who attended an ecumenical consultation meeting in Nairobi towards next year’s World Social Forum in Nairobi, says: “the World Social Forum first took place in 2001 in Brazil. It was repeated in the same country in 2002 and 2003 at Porto Alegre. It occurred at the same dates with the World Economic Forum. In 2004, it took place in Mumbai, India. In 2005, it went back to Porto Alegre. In 2006, it was polycentric and had three host cities Bamako (Mali), Caracas (Venezuela) and Karachi (Pakistan). Next year, it will take place in Nairobi, Kenya.

Southern Africa countries face common problems that call for a united voice in addressing them. This was the feeling expressed by some delegates interviewed at the start of the three day Southern Africa Social Forum in Lilongwe Malawi arguing that a forum like this would help them (delegates) explore means of addressing the many problems haunting the region.

Agatha Ngonga of Zambia said she expects to learn more about gender, HIV/Aids, and human rights among other things.

“My expectation is to learn from other countries on how they address issues like HIV/Aids, human rights and gender among others and which I would later share with fellow Zambians when I go back home,” she said.

Morgan Jeranyama of Zimbabwe says there are many challenges that Southern Africa is facing and there is need to find strategies that would help in finding lasting solutions to the problems. He said time has come for Africa to take action and speak with one voice. “Time has come for Africa to speak with one voice in addressing issues as this will help us eradicate the common problems that we face,” he said adding, “a lot of talking has been done and this is the time to take action.”

There were some regional differences between countries this, is to expected since this was the first time comrades were participating in such large numbers especially among the grassroots organizations. The South Africans and Zimbabweans delegations it seemed; were fearlessly throwing vocal critiques of the general political economy of Africa under capitalism in post colonial conditions. Comrades were vocal and embracing, delegates from Zambia sent a strong contingent that articulated their concerns very well, but without the fire of the South Africans and Zimbabweans.

The situation that was facing many delegates from Malawi, after a century of oppressive colonial rule, Kamuzu Banda's equally oppressive regime and twelve years of fragile democracy seemed cautious of speaking a language that was overtly adversarial to the government and business sectors. However, it was an excellent learning experience for all, as each drew from the strengths of different approaches and shared in the experiences of others. The meeting seemed to contributing in building a fighting Malawian civil society which is showing signs of rapid growth.

Organizers estimated the total cost of the forum to be above K16.7 million, money that came from different donors. Action Aid alone has pumped in K2.5 million into the forum.

For three days, members of civil society organizations broke into sector groups to discuss successes and challenges in their respective countries and come up with a regional position on these issues to take to the World Social Forum in Nairobi in January 2007.
There was a marked difference in the approaches that characterized discussions, with participants from Zambia and Malawi arguing that the role of civil society is to support African Governments in their efforts to bring about global justice through policies such as NEPAD and global campaign against debt. Comrades from Zimbabwe and South Africa, for common but particular reasons tended to raise serious criticism of the whole NEPAD agenda and how it is a program to extend the reaches of Neo-liberal policies throughout the continent.

To close the forum, all the delegates participated in the largest march in Malawi to date. People were signing, dancing and drumming the whole way – country representatives took the stage to spread a message of solidarity through word, poetry and music.

The thread of indebtedness and pervasive poverty and disease ran through many of the discussions and workshops in the tents
I will conclude by noting interesting observations about NGO, state, community organization and foreign donor organizations relations within the context of the Lilongwe sitting of the SASF. There seemed to dominate the view that saw “civil society” working in partnership with the state to drive radical reforms to the international economic arrangements as well as the need to continue to push authorities at local, national, provincial, regional levels, to provide essential services for the a sustainable of life for all.

The forum tended to be disproportionately representative of mainly NGO groups, with a very thin layer of actual community groups, partly due to the cost of travel and accommodation? Perhaps.

But groups such as those from South Africa and Zimbabwe managed to bring an impressive number of representatives from community organizations and the emerging social movements. This could be also a reflection of the resource gaps that characterize even Southern African NGO- not to even speak of community organizations. As noted earlier, the international NGO, Action-Aid, contributed substantial portions of the funding, conference was well resourced; as a result most of the bodies that manning proceedings were Action Aid staff.

This also filtered through in the campaigns that were prioritized both in terms of the program of the conference but also in which speakers and organizations could facilitate discussions. Whilst this an operational factor that affects all conferences, it is still worth noting the pre-conditioning of discussions often leaves very little space for divergent views to emerge except if they arise within the internal mechanisms that are decided and constructed during planning phase. The point I am making here is that with large efforts such as the Social Forum project, the aims, meanings and achievements will have to find effective means to encourage greater participation from a bottoms-up approach. Where the impoverished, excluded and all affected groups have a direct role to play in the planning, design and action orientation of the forum. If it remains as it currently is; dominated by muscled NGOs in powerful alliances with large donor organizations then there is a risk that the views and needs of affected groups may be substituted by those of NGO experts and the poor being treated as only an academic concern?

1. Davids. I, Theron. F, Maphunye. KJ: Participatory Development in South Africa. A development management perspective. 2005. Pretoria; Van Schaik Publishers.
2. Hulme.D & Edwards. M: NGOs, States and Donors; too close for comfort. 2000. London Save the Children Foundation.
3. Goyder. H: A perspective from an international NGO 1994 published in the management forum bulletin Volume 5.
4. Bebbingtton. A and Riddell R: Heavy hands, hidden hands, holding hands? Donors, intermediary NGOs and civil society organizations.2003. London, Macmillan publishers.

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