Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) serve an important role in South Africa. Without them, many of the central issues facing this country would be conveniently swept or hidden under the carpet.
The fight against corruption, affordable housing, environmental pollution, violence against women and animal rights, these are just some of the important issues that CSOs engage in and advocate for. Without them, we would lose an important check and balance in our democracy as well as an important voice to influence government and hold it accountable.
But CSOs need to be non-political. If not, their credibility and authority MUST be questioned. If they are not a voice for the “common man”, they are then a bullhorn for someone else.
And this is the point of my letter.
Last year, a number of CSOs were formed across the spectrum. Whether fighting for land, affordable housing, the rule of law or better safety and security, these CSOs provided drama, hope, anger or grief to Overstrand residents, depending on where you stand on a particular issue.
But in the last months, much has changed. One CSO has transformed itself into a registered organisation. Hopefully they will continue as a non-partisan body representing the interests of their paid-up members.
But in others, the same leadership team of the CSOs have registered themselves as a political party. Yet they continue to regularly send out messages under the names of the CSOs they originally set up!
This is wrong. You can’t be part of the leadership team of a political party vying to win in elections and, at the same time, claim to represent residents. In fairness, until elections are held, a political party can’t claim to speak for anyone except their own vested interests.
As the country moves into election mode, it is time for this charade to end. Let’s call a spade a spade. You are either a political party or you are a Civil Society Organisation. But you can’t be both.