Gauteng NPOs face closure due to budget cuts

father and child drawing on a bed
People who rely on NGOs face an uncertain future

 Expenditure on non-profit social care services in Gauteng has decreased by at least R299 million over the last two financial years, according to Lisa Vetten, a research associate at the Centre for Inequality Studies at the University of Witwatersrand.

“In 2021/22 the budget for Gauteng Province was R144 billion which has seen an increase in 23/24. It has increased by R21.635 billion to R165.812 billion to be shared between 15 different provincial departments. Health and education consumed the largest share of the budget and social development got less than 3%,” Vettel said during a recent webinar hosted by a group of non-profit organisations operating in the province.  

Many NPOs in Gauteng rely on the Department of Social Development to fund their work. In 2023 Gauteng NPOs received letters from the department about budget cuts in their fundings. Since then some NGOs have not been funded.

This has left many organisations that provide essential services in many underserved communities in the lurch. One such organisation is the Central Gauteng Mental Health Society in the south of Johannesburg which has been providing social and mental health services for children and adults with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities for more than 100 years. 

Things have changed drastically at the organisation over the past year. Budget cuts now mean that community members, like *Thulani from Klipspruit in Soweto, have to walk 21km to access the services provided at the Central Gauteng Mental Health Society. The organisation can no longer afford to transport its patients as it can’t afford to buy petrol. 

“Ever since the centre has been struggling with funding, I have had no choice but to walk to the centre when I have a problem because they cannot fetch me. The centre has helped a lot of people around Soweto but now it’s very sad seeing young people going back to using drugs,” Thulani says. 

Workers not spared 

Speaking on behalf of the society, Nelson Mahamba says the budget cuts will hit their workers as hard as the people they helped. 

“We have very low salaries for the staff members and there is no increase. Meanwhile the department has less employees and more pay. We have about 70 employees and about 60 of those are looking after their family members. You can imagine how many people will be impacted if we can’t pay those employees,” he says.

He says to meet basic needs like buying food has become impossible for the employees. 

“There is stress, anxiety and despair among workers. We have beneficiaries coming to us seeking help but we don’t know how to help them. Vulnerable people are left in a state where they don’t know where to go.” 

Mamiki Ramaphakela the director at Gauteng Children’s Rights Community says an average of one million people are employed by the NPO sector. 

“The NPOs have absorbed a lot of social workers with a very low salary. The cutting of budget is  emotionally devastating for the employees. The morale has declined among staff members,” she says. 

Lousie Marais of the Westrand association for persons with Disabilities  says the centre has been surviving for 76 years. 

“What is happening is unfair to our beneficiaries. Where should they go if they close these NPOs? There is nothing you can do without money. The situation is making us anxious and we are concerned about these beneficiaries. The department is really playing with lives here. Some of the beneficiaries don’t have families to go to,” she says.

Limited resources 

In a statement the provincial department of social development said funding needs of NPOs outstripped the available budget. “Over 1732 applications were received collectively tallying an amount of over R11.4 billion in financial requests, an amount far greater than the department’s overall budget of R5.5 billion,” the statement read.  

Vetten says the Gauteng Care Crisis Committee, a network of over 50 organisations, rejects the cuts and condemns the department for failing to communicate its decisions to the NPOs. 

“The cuts reflect a shocking disregard for the vulnerable persons right to social care services. An urgent intervention is needed. The department needs a medium term intervention to address the crisis that is going on. The department needs to immediately inform all organisations about the status of their business plans. These organisations need to know whether or not they have been approved for funding or not,” Vetten says.

She says right now NPOs are faced with the issue of retrenching staff.

“An enormous amount of work will be needed to repair the relationship between NPOs and the department. Trust needs to be rebuilt and with that needs a radical change. There is a misunderstanding that NPOs feel entitled to the funding and the department is doing them a favour as the services NPO provides aren’t really important and that is incorrect. Social service is a constitutional right,” she says. – Health-e News

*He didn’t provide his surname

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