Exposing the conspiracy theory

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As South Africans we do love a good conspiracy theory. As an example, we have become certain that the absence of whities in the national football team amounts to a vicious racist attack on us pale folk. It never occurs to us that we just aren’t very good at football.

No, no that would be simple and dull. For our theories to have any true round-the-braai cred, they need to suggest some form of sinister plot against one or other group of people.

Another example is the recent furore over NGOs who have been deregistered or made non-compliant by the NPO Directorate.

These poor, struggling charities, doing the work of God, saving the poor and starving from ruin (not to mention the rhinos) and tackling our corrupt, inept and, let’s be frank, non-compliant government, have had their credibility ruined and their chances of funding scuppered, all because of some silly little annual report that the nasty government said was necessary.

“Don’t they know that we are far too busy saving the world to ‘be compliant?’, moan the NGOers.

One has to feel particularly sorry (not) for The Endangered Wildlife Trust that has been in South Africa for 40 years. When it found out it had been deregistered, its chief executive, Yolan Friedmann, whimpered that The Social Development Department (sic) had not contacted the trust once in 12 years. What was he expecting? An annual Christmas card? Perhaps a bottle of bubbly on their 40th anniversary?

It never occurred to this chief executive that perhaps – in 12 long years – they should have contacted the NPO Directorate by sending them the required reports on the forms clearly specified on the Department of Social Development website.

The media have reported that about 70 000 NGOs have been deregistered or made non-compliant. This has nothing to do with whether your preferred cause has rattled the government cage too hard.

It has to do with the fact that they didn’t submit the necessary annual information regarding their operations and finances: a) on time, or b) in the prescribed format. It is exactly the same as if you don’t submit your annual business tax return to the SA Revenue Service. They eventually come and knock on your door.

Now, I have no doubt that if the tables were turned and all of a sudden it came to light that 70 000 errant and non-compliant NGOs had been allowed to continue operating in South Africa, all the conspiracy theorists would have bleated as one: “You see, our corrupt and useless government is once again turning a blind eye to inefficiency, non-compliance and rank laziness because it suits them blah, blah blah.” Damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

The directorate has made it quite clear that it is going to scrutinise the affairs of NGOs in South Africa closer than it has to date.

This is a very good thing. It should give disillusioned donors confidence that their money is going to well-run organisations that will not misappropriate their funds.

But I ask you – how confident do you feel giving your hard-earned money to a charity that can’t even be bothered to comply with the less than onerous reporting demands of the department that accredits them and audits their operations?

Flashy

Forget its flashy website, its celebrity endorsements, the fact that it has a public benefit organisation number from Sars, a PayPal account and an office in the US or the UK. Forget that its founders have won awards for philanthropy and been on Carte Blanche.

Has it got the discipline, the structure, the leadership, the attention to detail and the morality to be compliant; to do the hard work of ensuring that every cent of donors’ money is transparently accounted for – to the right department?

If you go on to the NPO Directorate website (www.npo.gov.za), you can type in the name of your preferred charity and see whether it is registered, deregistered or non-compliant.

I would suggest that if it is deregistered or non-compliant you consider carefully whether you or your company should continue to fund the operation concerned. Be in contact with the founder or the chief executive and ask for clarity on their strategy to get reregistered.

The charity world in South Africa desperately needs to wake up; professionalise itself, lose its tin-rattling image and assume its place as a sector that attracts top talent and administers itself with integrity.

It can start by following one simple template – available on the Department of Social Development website and very easy to use – outlining exactly what information is required.

For the rest of us who faithfully support NGOs – don’t believe the bleeding heart, victim twaddle about “government being nasty to us for upsetting them”. It’s another conspiracy theory that must be exposed.

l Foxton is co-founder of The Peace Agency, national awareness campaign “Stop Crime Say Hello” and The Baby House in Umhlanga.


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