Tuesday, 24 May 2011

JAG, SOS Project and Mpendulo Savings

The Jeffreys Bay Residents Association has recently setup the JBay Activities & Groups googlegroup (known as JAG), to facilitate communication between civic groups based in J Bay. A googlegroup allows easy and controlled email communication between group members. Currently the idea is being tested with just 11 members, before all the rest of the J Bay civic groups are invited to join.

A member of JAG, Erena Slabbert of the SOS Project, asked the following question concerning another JAG member, Mpendulo Savings. 
Can you please explain why this Mpendulo savings group want donations.  There are a few groups in Jbay working very hard to help the sick and destitute in the township, our group (SOS project) as well as the others are absolutely dependent on donations from the community.  My group works only among the sick and infirm who we help with food parcels when there is NO INCOME – so this means they cannot help themselves, they are mostly too sick to anyway. 
Jill Thompson, director of Mpendulo Savings, provided the following reply.

Recently, a member of JAG Google groups asked why Mpendulo Savings was asking for donations when there were other organizations completely dependent on private donations that are working very hard in the township community with people who have no income and/or are too sick to work or care for themselves.

Before I answer the question directly, I want to provide a little background on who we are and the role our organization plays amongst economically vulnerable populations. The goal of Mpendulo Savings’ as a non-profit, tax exempt, community based Trust, is to build the economic resilience of vulnerable households. We do this by mobilizing community members in the townships to self-select members who will form a savings group. We provide training for the groups and monitor them each time they meet. For this we employ four training officers who come from township areas. We do not give any money to the groups, nor do we take money from them, other than a token fee to cover part of the cost of the group savings kit. After a year, each group is expected to operate independently. So far we have 20 groups doing just that.

Our member profile is as follows:
- 80% are women,
- the majority are between 25 and 40 years old; but more than 25% are over 50 years old and 10% are between 15 and 25 years old
- nearly 60% receive a government social grant
- 44% care for children who are not their biological offspring, the majority are grandchildren
- 30% operate some type of micro-business; usually from their home
- 42% depend on casual or part time employment
- More than half our members are women heads of households

This profile is by no means THE most vulnerable in the community. They are poor, but stable. This does not mean, however, that they are out of danger. Some are teetering on the edge of stability and others are one paycheck away from having to rely on charity from their family, neighbors or an organization providing food parcels. If the organizations providing this service feel they are working hard now….. imagine how it would be if these vulnerable households had no safety net. This is a very real concern because of the silent economic crisis brought about by the impact of HIV/AIDS. And this brings me to the role our organization plays and why we do what we do.

HIV/AIDS is a moving target. A household may have been stable at the onset of an HIV/AIDS related (usually health) crisis; however, when a household’s safety net is depleted, it can slide into destitution. Most likely, a person has experienced several health crises already before getting to the place where s/he has no resources of her/his own now and must rely on charity. Mpendulo Savings works to prevent the slide to destitution and to help people bounce back once they get through an economic shock so they can be self reliant.

If there are not efforts to slow down or halt such a downward slide to economic devastation, or to help people bounce back from crises, two consequences can result: 
1) the volume of households that become very vulnerable to the point of destitution will overwhelm the capacity of anyone to respond and 
2) there will be fewer households economically strong enough to form part of a community safety net. Therefore, preventing the erosion of economic resources by assisting households to strengthen them before crises have an impact is as important as responding to situations that need rescuing.

As for why we ask for donations; there are a few reasons; 
1) a sound strategy for any non-profit is to have a variety of income streams because it is risky to “have all your eggs in one basket”. Donations are one part of our strategy; 
2) private donations usually come without the same type of strings attached to government or more formal donor funding, so we can be flexible in responding to the capacity building needs of our savings groups, and 
3) we feel it is important that the more affluent community of JBay are afforded the opportunity to contribute to the betterment of the poorer community from different angles; and to discover that— although there are many in desperate straits who cannot help themselves—there are just as many others, while still poor, are able and more than willing to help themselves.

I don’t feel that soliciting donations needs to be a ‘zero sum game’ where in order for one organization to gain it means another one has to lose. Rather, I see that people who give to non-profits and causes are motivated by different passions. One person may be passionately committed to donating towards the delivery of food parcels to the sick and infirm and be totally disinterested in what Mpendulo Savings does. Someone else may be passionate about stopping the Thuyspoint nuclear station and give their all to that, but they wouldn’t be interested in food parcels or Mpendulo. Someone else again may feel that developing vulnerable households’ capacity to manage their savings, start a micro business and get out of debt to loan sharks is the answer and will donate to Mpendulo Savings and not be interested in food parcels or the nuclear station, others are motivated by the plight of neglected animals…and so on.

To wrap this up, I feel that the solutions to poverty must come from a patchwork of approaches. No one organization can possibly do it all…and that includes government. It takes all of us joining hands to make it happen. Let us thank God there are organizations like SOS, Victory Outreach and other church organizations, in addition to Social Development, to step in when a household hits rock bottom. But let us also thank God that there are organizations like Mpendulo Savings that don’t wait for a disaster to happen before taking action.

Monday, 2 May 2011

No value for money in local government

By Marius Redelinghuys, from his blog on Mail & Guardian Thought Leader.

The nett pay of councillors in Tshwane is apparently R18 000 a month, while their counterparts in Johannesburg and eKurhuleni earn between R13 000 and R14 000.
If you live in Pretoria, Centurion, Mamelodi, Hammanskraal or surrounds, you put R36 000 a month into your ward and PR councillor’s pockets.
Whether ANC or DA, in government or not, you pay two individuals R216 000 each per year to represent, serve, and remain accessible and accountable to you in the affairs of your ward and your community.
Since they were elected in 2006, your councillor in Pretoria or the broader Tshwane metro, has received approximately R1 080 000 to be your direct link with your local government.
The annual taxpayer-funded bill for councillor salaries in Tshwane, for all 210 of them, amounts to R45 360 000 and a staggering R113 400 000 for their five-year term in office.
As a bit of a realist I can’t help but look at this figure and question the return on the investment or value for money, if any, for us as residents. As idealist I wonder how these people sleep at night.
When I look at the constitutional duties and responsibilities of local government, the performance of our municipalities, and the salaries our representatives draw, I can’t help but observe a mismatch in the whole process. Of course your councillors don’t make things happen, that is the job of the executive committee. But executive decisions are only as good as the input and feedback that informs them.
Your councillor then, in theory, is that pivotal link between your interest and that group of men and women who make things happen. This is why we call them representatives.
In order for this to happen effectively, your representative needs to hear your concerns, demands and receive input and feedback from you to ensure your voice is heard in your local government. After all, s/he gets paid R18 000 per month to do this.
Sadly, this does not happen, and it is not only ANC councillors who fall short of fulfilling their most basic duty.
Since 2006 I have lived in four wards in Tshwane, all four of them represented by a DA councillor. Trying to find or get a hold of these men and women, DA as they might be, has proven as fruitless as the search for the Kruger Millions. As they have gone about “delivering for all” I have been unable to get a hold of them and they have no public profile or make no public appearances (apart from during election time, of course).
They get paid the same as their ANC counterparts in the council, and apart from their political allegiance there is no tangible or practical difference in the quality of service they deliver to the community.
As residents we are being done in, and it costs us R113 400 000. Citizen democracy, a meaningful partnership between resident and governance structures and processes, and effective, quality representation at this most basic level of government is dead.
There is no consultation, no transparency, and no accountability from our representatives and posters dot the landscape of Pretoria selling us the lie that Jacob, Helen, Lindiwe, Patricia or Zanele will make Tshwane the African capital it deserves to be and give its residents the quality governance it deserves.