In Linda Polman’s book, The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong with Humanitarian Aid?, she expresses concerns over relief aid workers negatively impacting the people they are sent to help. There isn’t an overarching system that punishes aid workers for wrongdoing, so they usually get away with mistreatment or exploitation of people. Polman also outlines how governments and people in power typically profit from aid organizations like non-governmental organizations (NGO) and “my own” non-governmental organizations (MONGO).
Polman even wrote that some relief organizations as “businesses dressed up like Mother Teresa.” She meant that some of these MONGOs and NGOs appear to exist to help people like Mother Teresa, but they ultimately end up being profit machines for the very people who contribute to a country’s instability that caused them to require aid in the first place. It’s up to journalists, the public, and governments to keep MONGOs and NGOs successful by monitoring their activity. Journalists and the public can spread news of corruption, and governments can refuse entry to MONGOs and NGOs who aren’t adequately helping those in need.
South Africa has 441 NGOs, according to WANGO. To create an NGO in South Africa, you have to submit an application form to your provincial social development office, two copies of a letter of authorization from the courts, and several other court approved documents certifying the NGO as a Section 21 business, according to Intergate Immigration. After your application is approved, you have to get volunteers visas or a general work visas to bring in foreign staff to South Africa. Visas are not needed to hire South Africans.
Active NGOs in South Africa are dedicated to helping South Africans in a wide variety of ways including supporting abuse victims, national parks, and environmental rights. Many are more like activists than aid workers. NGOs Hand4Hearts and LoveJustice recently spoke out against legalizing prostitution due to it’s supposed link to other, more dangerous crimes such as sex trafficking, according to News24. NGO Teddy Bear Clinic recently spoke out against how the criminal justice system handles when one of their police officers sexually assaulting children, according to News 24.
It seems like many of the 441 NGOs provide support and speak out on behalf of victims instead of simply providing medical aid and food like many of the NGOs who help in war torn countries like Rwanda during its civil war.
Many South African NGOs are sustained by donations from private citizens. The government rarely funds NGOs. When the economy suffers, donations to NGOs decrease and the organization has to limit its work. The government does have steps in place so NGOs can attain partial government funding, but “the lack of transparent or standardized criteria for financing of social services has led to major discrepancies in the allocation of funds to NGOs,” according to NGO Pulse. I cannot accurately discuss if the South African government profits from having NGOs as Polman discussed in her book. I could not find reported instances or records of the South African government heavily taxing NGOs, taking their supplies, or charging them large sums of money for non South Africa based NGOs to operate in South Africa beyond forcing them to attain the previously mentioned visas for their workers. I also couldn’t find if NGOs qualify for any kind of tax exemption as a charity giving organization in South Africa.
I did find one instance of an NGO charged with fraud for not paying its workers. The Siyandiza Women Empowerment Group received partial funding from the South African Department of Social Services and Development, according to IOL. I could not find a follow up report about the fraud charge, nor did I find any other evidence online that this group exists. I found two groups with similar names but one works only in the United States and the other was just a location on Google Maps that contained no other information. It seems like more research on NGOs working in South Africa needs to be done before I could discuss any possible corruption or NGO workers getting away with mistreatment as Poland discussed.