The budget is in and SONA delivered, with conflicting reports greeting them both. There has been a tendency to greet our new acting State President’s every move  with rapturous approval; it remains to be seen if this approval will be sustained by real and felt differences in the quality of life for the majority of South Africans.

SONA 2018 gave little reason to celebrate for the CSI sector, or for NGOs and NPOs.  ‘Good is the enemy of Great’, goes the saying.  Our new acting State President is perceived as a good man, with a general impetus towards redressing wrongs, while keeping business, farmers and professionals happy. But Nelson Mandela he is not.

Our first ever SONA was delivered by Nelson Mandela on 24 May 1994, when he spoke of a people-centred society, and of freedom from hunger, deprivation, fear and ignorance – ideals that have still not been met. CSI, the vehicle through which so many of these ideals are made real, is clinging on, despite ~ not thanks to ~ leadership in government.
If CSI were a person, what would that person have heard and felt after hearing SONA 2018? Our contention is that he would have heard, ‘You are poor and unimportant, you come last; wait at the back while we increase taxes and take care of more important matters.’

Less money, same poverty

The 1% increase in VAT means that companies, whose CSI spend is generally 1% or lower, will be challenged to meet their CSI budgets.  For companies invoicing clients at R1 million or over per invoice, the VAT hike amounts to massive increases in tax; there will be even less money available for discretionary spending.

For NGO and NPOs, this means, ‘Be prepared.’ Most companies will claim that they are working out their finances to meet the current tax requirements. Community poverty may well be the last thing on their minds.


R1600 a month

In listening to President Ramaphosa’s speech last week, one might well be justified in wondering whether the term ‘poverty’  is understood at all. Globally, the yardstick for measuring poverty is the two-dollar mark – subsisting on $2 a or less per days is considered the indicator for poverty.

Two dollars a day. Currently, that’s R24. That’s R720 per month – per person. For a family of four, that’s R2880. For extended families subsisting on one income, the figure should be much higher; six people would require R4320 just to hover at the poverty line. How many of our farm workers earn as much as R4320?

Last month reached participated in the African Continent’s Global Giving Initiative, travelling as a team to a rural community in Free State to donate supplies to two farm schools.  There we heard of households living on R1600 per month – the average farm wage in the area. When one considers unemployment and the rate of teenage pregnancies (in itself a phenomenon associated with poverty and lack of prospects), we see that five or six people may be subsisting on that pittance every month.

That is poverty.

Emerging from depression

Ramaphosa has been called the Roosevelt of South Africa; a man tasked with wrestling his nation out of an experience that can be likened to America’ s Great Depression of the thirties. Corruption, state capture, rampant crime and flagrant throwing away of money has depressed us a nation. We are frustrated, angry and fed up; yet hopeful, resolutely positive, longing for something better.

For those at the very bottom of the pile, hope is subdued. Many don’t expect much that is new, sceptically viewing all leaders as prone to corruption, yet placing their hope in policies that might eventually trickle down and uplift their lot.

CSI’s vital role

Business has been and will have to continue to be government’s helpmeet in reaching out to these desperate ones.  If it were not for companies’ various CSI initiatives, many families would be suffering daily deprivations even more pronounced than they are currently. We cannot afford to let CSI fail – yet how do we ensure its continued existence in the face of tax hikes and shrinking budgets?

The lifeboat for this year will almost certainly be the celebration of Nelson Mandela’s centenary. Many businesses will give a percentage of their CSI spend to fund events associated with this occasion. The challenge will be in getting companies to look beyond the hype of the big events. In the midst of the pressures to simply stay afloat, will companies take a deep and lasting interest in even a singe community and make a commitment to seeing it changing for the better – even in one focussed area? We know that schools will be painted, feet will be shod, meals will be served, gardens will be planted and laboratories will be stocked with computers. Much of it will fall into disrepair once the cameras and the reporters leave. Hungry and desperate people never look long term.

Getting real

The answer, in our view, is for CSI to do far more thorough research and to uncover the few good organisations out there that are committed to a whole-community approach – and then partner with them wholeheartedly.

Organisations exist that have the personpower, energy, experience and knowledge to get into a community and work with them over the long term, but they are few and far between. Not many can remain committed when their operating budgets fluctuate wildly and their own salaries remain unpaid month after month. It takes a real partnering, and individuals within the corporate sector who trust the integrity of NGOs and NPOs, who understand their needs, and who walk the talk.

Reasons to smile

We are excited about the launch of the Centre for CSI Council, which will endeavour to research and make available a wide range of information that will inform, guide, stimulate and draw together the corporate CSI sector in South Africa. Long overdue, in our view.

And while poverty remains high and the gap between rich and poor continues to widen, the number of South Africans living in direst poverty is lower than it was a decade ago. According the 2015 Poverty Trends Report, in 2006, two-thirds of South Africans (about 31,6 million people) were living ‘below the poverty line’, compared to 55.5% in 2015 (30.4 million). It is not, however, a steadily decreasing line – numbers living in poverty actually increased between 2013 and 2015.  When one examines the figures closely, they are never straightforward.

So what can we expect? Expect to have it tough these next three months. Unless we have brilliant, creative and intelligent social entrepreneurs on our teams who will assist in generating income, we are certainly going to face more challenging times.  Most of us will have to add to our knowledge to cope – and that may mean spending more, a counter-intuitive idea.  Yet time and again it has been shown that by changing our way of thinking, our knowledge and our connectedness, we vitally boost our creative powers. We are our own best resource – if we’re operating optimally.
Start with the mindset

All is never lost.  No matter what the size of our business, NGO or NPO, let’s start with the mindset  that says, ‘I am going to remain stable over this period. I am going to charter this new territory, remain alert to changes, and take full advantage of everything that separates the failing enterprises from the thriving ones.’

Knowledge, more knowledge and a strong sense that ‘my team and I can do it’ –  that will make the difference.
The President said at SONA, ‘We are a nation at one.  We are the one people, committed to work together to find jobs for our youth, to build factories and roads, houses and clinics, to prepare our children for a world of change and progress, to building cities and towns where families may be safe, productive and content.   We are determined to build a society defined by decency and integrity, that does not tolerate the plunder of public resources, nor the theft by corporate criminals of the hard-earned savings of ordinary people.’

Our priority over the next three months should be to find out what gatherings or events we can attend to understand the impact of the budget speech and add to our knowledge and flexibility.  Government itself knows little about CSI or the true state of households affected by extreme poverty. It may well be up to motivated NGOs and NPOs, and their partners within the corporate world, to get out there and effect the changes government speaks about.