Impact SA

South Africa’s efforts to tackle social challenges can become more effective


Apartheid, poverty, unemployment, and inequality have all had a huge impact on the social challenges South Africa continues to face today.

The political liberation of 1994 did not translate into economic freedom for the vast majority of black South Africans. And when the global pandemic hit in early 2020, followed by the hard lockdowns, this further exposed the historical fault lines in our country. All of this exacerbated the social ills in our society.

As a result, South Africa continues to have the highest Gini coefficient in the world and remains the most unequal country on earth.

As of August 2021, South Africa’s unemployment level stood at 44.4% of the population.

Even more worrying is the high level of youth unemployment, which currently stands at 63.3%. This group of people, referred to as NEET (not in employment, education, or training) is regularly referred to by the media and other political analysts and commentators as a “ticking time bomb”.

Our youth are without hope of any kind of future, or access to opportunities. As a result, many are turning to alcohol, drugs, and crime to try to survive. In 2019, about 18 million South Africans received some form of social grant as well.

Amid these challenging circumstances, here’s how government, the corporate sector, philanthropy, and civil society have responded to try to ease these social ills. At the end of this article, I will also provide some further steps I think need to be taken to begin to deal with the issues at hand.


Government has introduced policies and legislation to create an enabling environment for NPOs and donors to operate in.

Government provides social grants which support extended impoverished family members. A recent study conducted by the Centre for Social Development in Africa at the University of Johannesburg showed how part of a social grant was utilised to establish a small business, which now provides employment opportunities to others, thus reducing dependency on the state.

In addition, the following measures have also been taken:

• Government has introduced tax incentives in respect of donations made to nonprofit organisations

• At the start of the global pandemic, government announced several relief packages designed to assist businesses and individuals most badly hit by Covid-19.

• Government has introduced a policy of broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) to level the playing fields and to assist black-owned businesses to gain access to the formal economy in a variety of ways.

On the flip side, the Department of Social Development’s budgets are strained to breaking point and about 18 million South Africans receive some sort of monthly social grant. More than 90% of the Department of Social Development’s budget is allocated to these social grants, leaving very little left to support struggling NPOs, many of whom are rendering critical services at community level on behalf of the state.

The corporate sector

The corporate sector, in the main, responded quickly to the unfolding crisis once Covid-19 hit South Africa. Donations were made in many forms, such as cash and donations of foodstuffs and PPE, while give-as-you-earn programmes saw an increase in monthly donations to vetted nonprofit organisations.

Employee volunteers stepped up, either physically or virtually, to contribute their time, money or goods to assist those NPOs in crisis as a result of the pandemic. Corporates also made socioeconomic contributions, one of the pillars of the BBBEE scorecard, to vetted nonprofit organisations.

African philanthropy, Ubuntu, black tax and high[1]net-worth individuals

South Africa is also well known for its practice of Ubuntu, which loosely translated means “I am because you are” and recognises our humanity as a people. For decades poorer South Africans have joined stokvels and burial societies to save small contributions on a monthly basis. The phenomenon of giving to family members or neighbours is especially prominent among poor people.

The so-called black tax also assists extended families. When one family member has successfully completed their education and/or secured a job, that individual will typically send a portion of their salary to those family members in need.

The annual CAF World Giving Index research report which focuses on generosity patterns across the globe, such as donating time or money, as well as helping a stranger, has found that over several years the gap between the global north and the global south is also closing.

Some recommendations

We as a nation have come a long way, but much more needs to be done as we look to the targets of the Sustainable Developments Goals.

Government needs to re-build an ailing economy and create jobs.

The vast gap between the wealthy and the poor is not sustainable. South Africa must grow a larger black middle class.

Additional tax incentives must be introduced by the government to spur on business growth.

An enabling environment must make donating and receiving donations easy. Registering NPOs with the Department of Social Development is cumbersome and should be simplified without compromising governance and compliance imperatives.

In a survey conducted by CAFSA among NPOs during Covid-19, it was revealed that NPOs felt largely ignored by government, even though many were rendering critical services at community level during the global pandemic.

There must be greater recognition and measurement in respect of Ubuntu and the black tax.

We need to strengthen local community systems of giving.

Skills-based volunteering must be leveraged to facilitate the transfer of skills located in the corporate sector to assist nonprofit organisations. Corporates must look at existing recognition and reward mechanisms for those staff members who volunteer their time or donate funds to NPOs. Ideally companies with give as you earn programmes should match employee contributions.

All actors in the philanthropy space need to collaborate and share ideas and resources to ensure we enable the continuation of a strong and vibrant civil society, which is a cornerstone of our young democracy.

African philanthropy and civil society in South Africa must have a seat at the table as we grapple with African solutions to African challenges.

Working together, all sectors of society can play their part in building a better future for all South Africans. However, it will take commitment and partnership to achieve the greater good.

Gill Bates – CEO, Charities Aid Foundation Southern Africa (CAFSA)


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