‘Too White for Welfare’

Henry

“Organizations with a board that is 100% white; beneficiaries who are 100% white… some of us even find the name of (some of) the organizations offensive because it is a name that promotes the legacy of apartheid.

“And they want the state to finance them…”

This is what Bongani Ngomane, acting head of department of the Gauteng Department of Social Development, said on Monday in Johannesburg during a meeting with representatives of various welfare organizations in the province.

The source who provided part of the recording did not want to be disclosed for fear of victimization.

A crisis has been raging in Gauteng for months due to the department’s alleged delay in finalizing service contracts for these non-profit organisations, the department’s failure to pay them on time and a lack of communication about the state of affairs.

Some organizations could not pay salaries and several others already had to close their doors due to lack of money.

Now some have heard they are believed to be too white to receive help.

Proportionate commitment important

At this week’s meeting, Ngomane explained that the department of social development in the province had earlier appointed an independent panel to handle all applications for subsidies on behalf of the department. He says this panel has found what is labeled as the “monopolization of financing”.

This means that one organization (possibly with several divisions or premises) also submits several business plans in their applications for funding from the department.

“One organisation, and then they expect the department to fund them. This is what we call the monopoly on financing. If we fund this, there might be an organization that doesn’t get help, because all the funding went to one big organization.”

Ngomane says that is why the Gauteng premier, Panyaza Lesufi, involved the representatives of the organizations so that they can help with this transformation process.

“So, if we say we can’t fund your 19 or 20 or 10 applications and are only going to fund one, you can’t go out and say the ‘department is funding us; this department is against our work’ and ‘what about my beneficiaries?’.

“And then you don’t tell members of the public that you want funding for 19 sites across Gauteng, while there are other (organizations) with only one site that are also in the queue.”

Ngomane also said during the meeting that the issue of “proportional allocation” is very important for the department.

“The independent panel found that there are some organizations that want to use the funds of a democratic government, a non-racial government, to promote – what we call the apartheid legacy -,” he said.

It is these organizations that have exclusively white councils and white beneficiaries, who, according to Ngomane, are now looking for money from the state.

“I was shocked that the department had funded them in the past,” he said.

He also says that those in the industry who “get money today, tomorrow and in the future” must understand that they “are not permanently entitled to it”.

“This means that your program is in line with the department’s priorities and the department allocates money to you to be able to do your work.”

‘racial threat’

Solidarity has strongly condemned Ngomane’s “racial threats”, which the organization describes as the threat to withhold subsidies from organizations that are considered too white.

Members connected to Solidarity’s social worker network were present at the meeting and confirmed the statements when asked.

The organization says these members – and other people associated with welfare organizations who attended the meeting – are now deeply concerned about how the withholding of money on the basis of skin color can especially affect orphans and the vulnerable.

Bianca Smit, network coordinator of Solidarity’s social worker network, says the statements are shocking, but not necessarily a surprise.

“Still, we cannot remain silent while race is once again used as a political tool to promote an ideology, especially not when the government claims in the same breath that it is a democratic, non-racial government,” says Smit.

“This claim of non-racialism is clearly false, because race is apparently all they see. We are talking here of officials who will even see to it that orphanages go to ruin just to promote their racial agenda and hide their own mismanagement.”

She says the remarks come amid intense discussions about the welfare subsidies in Gauteng and concerns about government funding of them after last year’s threats of a 66% cut on the very subsidies. An undertaking was given earlier that the subsidies will be repaid by 24 May.

However, many organizations are skeptical that this will happen and they fear ruin if it is not paid.

Hundreds protest

Meanwhile, hundreds of beneficiaries and workers at welfare organizations marched in Johannesburg on Friday in an attempt to put pressure on the government to prioritize the allocation of money and the processing of subsidy applications.

The protest comes shortly after Lesufi himself gave the company that payments will be accelerated and the budget cuts will be reversed. He also promised that service level agreements would be sorted out, GroundUp reported.

However, people from various organizations said that they have not yet received any money and also no indication of when this will happen.

Many chanted “away with Lesufi” and “away with Hlophe”, referring to Mbali Hlophe, the MEC for social development in Gauteng.

Several shelters, orphanages and organizations that care for the disabled are among those that have already had to close their doors or scale back their services due to the delay in the payment of subsidies.

They also demand that an end be put to what they call the neglect of the sector and disregard of the essential services they provide.

The Johannesburg Association for the Blind is one of the organizations that has not yet received a service level agreement. Lisa Vetten, chairperson of the Gauteng Care Crisis Committee, also said that no women’s shelters (connected to the committee) have yet received these agreements.

The coalition now intends to take urgent legal action against the department to, among other things, have the payments declared an order of the court.

Statements cause panic

Solidarity says threats about the racial composition of the organizations are now spreading further panic about the possibility that some of the most defenseless could soon be left without a place to live.

Helgard Cronjé, deputy general secretary of the public industry at Solidarity, also lamented this state of affairs, but says it should serve as a wake-up call for numerous welfare organisations.

“It is time for organizations to realize that the state is no longer their friend. They simply cannot depend on the state anymore and will soon have to start making plans themselves for alternative financing.

“This is a crisis that has had a long run-up, but it is now time to make the social sector more independent and, in the longer term, to detach from the state,” says Cronjé.

He believes it is time for a bigger crisis summit on welfare, but says Solidarity does hold ongoing discussions with the department to try to influence the state of welfare care in Gauteng for the better in the shorter term.

Department’s position

Sindisiwe Chikunga, Panyaza Lesufi, Themba Mhambi, Reginald Demana, SANRAL, e-toll, Gauteng Premier, Minister of Transport, Department of Transport

Themba Radebe, spokesperson for the Department of Social Development, Agriculture, Rural Development and Environment, did not answer specific questions about Ngomane’s statements, and RNews refers to a statement sent out on Tuesday.

According to this statement, Lesufi emphasized the important role of the welfare organisations, especially in terms of caring for the defenseless.

The prime minister says in the statement, among other things: “Issues such as the delay in the signing of service level agreements have given rise to uncertainty and consequent disruption which has been clearly highlighted.

“Unfortunately, this has caused tension in the long-standing relationship between the sector and the Gauteng Department of Social Development.”

Lesufi gave the assurance that the province is committed to restoring and strengthening this relationship. Various measures were also announced. This includes:

  • The immediate suspension of the 70/30 funding model (70% of the money was used to finance training programs and 30% of the money for administrative expenses and salaries)
  • A full allocation of R2.4 billion to the sector; this is an increase from the previous R1.7 billion
  • Immediate payment to organizations with signed service level agreements
  • The establishment of a task force to discuss problematic clauses in the service level agreements
  • Quarterly meetings between the Gauteng government and the sector

The Department of Social Development has received more than 1,700 applications totaling R16.5 billion. The prime minister says this is much more than the budget allows and financing will be done within the limited budget resources. This amount stands at R2.4 billion.