The year 2019 is culminating in a watershed moment in the history of South Africa writes Thabang Charlotte Mampane. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi.
JOHANNESBURG - The year 2019 is culminating in a watershed moment in the history of South Africa. The beauty of democratic elections worldwide is that while they afford people free will to determine their destiny, they are also fundamentally premised on improving ordinary people's lives. Especially society's most vulnerable.

Unemployment, poverty and inequality have been the rallying cry in this election.

In his inauguration speech, President Cyril Ramaphosa bravely undertook to end this scourge “within a generation” - an enormous challenge, which will inextricably be linked to our daily national discourse.

In his 2005 speech at London’s Trafalgar Square, the late president Nelson Mandela outlined the enormity of the problem when he said thus: “Poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the action of human beings. Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”

It is partially against this background that the National Lotteries Commission (NLC), with its vision of being “the catalyst for social upliftment” was established. The organisation has for the past 20 years been mandated with regulating lotteries and sports pools to make resources available to fund good causes. Our preoccupation is to change lives for the better.

This latter determination has been the driving force behind the NLC since its establishment under the Department of Trade and Industry (the dti) in 1999.

We regulate lotteries and sports pools to fund worthy causes that are aligned to the broader developmental agenda of the country with the objective of extricating South African citizens from the grip of poverty and the burden of inequality.

Our regulatory activities include ensuring fair play in lotteries and combating illegal lotteries. National Lottery regulation extends to the appointment of the operator in conjunction with the dti. To date, three operating licences have been issued for seven-year terms to Uthingo (1999), Gidani (2007) and Ithuba (2015).

The NLC also assists non-profit organisations (NPOs), clubs or associations of persons to register society lotteries to raise funds. To date around 250 of these have been registered.

A common myth around illegal lotteries is that they are typically underground activities. However, the Lotteries Act defines an illegal lottery as “any game of chance not authorised by the NLC”.

In 2006, the NLC instituted High Court action for contraventions of the Lotteries Act against FirstRand Bank for its “Million a Month” promotional competition, as well as against the South African Children’s Charity Trust and the SABC for the "Winikhaya" competition.

These cases were concluded with judgments favourable to the NLC. It is for this reason that we encourage competition organisers to inquire with us for compliance.

A 2019 NLC study revealed that illegal lotteries are a threat to the creation of revenue meant for the upliftment of communities in need, creating a dent of around R643million per annum.

Our work is driven by the hopes of ordinary people, and NLC funding is channelled to entities working for public benefit and who do not seek profit as reward for their community-building endeavours.

In 20 years, the NLC has granted more than R25billion to more than 110000 projects. These include 63038 charity organisations which received more than R12bn, 13978 projects in Arts and Culture (R6.4bn), almost 30560 Sport and Recreation projects (R6.5bn) and around R700m to 2467 miscellaneous projects.

Our funding is split into three categories, which make it possible for even small NPOs to access grants with minimal barriers to entry.

These are small grants of up to R500000, medium grants which range from R500000 to R5m and large grants from R5m with more stringent application criteria to mitigate risk.

Historically, we’ve received applications for funding that far exceed the available budget - a testament to the level of need in the country.

To ensure equitable distribution of funds, we set out focus areas for funding every financial year which help to zoom in on national priorities, while an all-year open application system helps to ensure that there is no backlog, and that we abide by the legislated 150-day turnaround time on applications.

Distributing agencies in each sector - the experts tasked by the minister with adjudicating funding applications - have been appointed on a full-time basis since 2016 (except for Sport & Recreation, which is still pending). Their full-time appointment brings increased frequency of adjudication, also aiding in eliminating backlogs.

Looking back, one can bear testament to the work that has gone into improved governance, stronger measures to combat fraud and corruption, and robust monitoring and evaluation.

In a developing country like ours, access to resources remains a challenge. It is, therefore, crucial that organisations like ours with a national mandate must expand their reach to create a fair playing field.

We have taken services to the people through provincial offices, and further spread within each province through workshops and stakeholder engagements that also serve as listening sessions to guide our strategies.

We are on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and are working swiftly to find balance between our current realities and technology to help us to operate more efficiently.

Over time, we have refined operations to be relevant to those we serve. One of these methods is the introduction of proactive funding, which the act has enabled us to implement.

Since its introduction, we have been able to act with immediacy in response to drought, floods, and sanitation crises, as opposed to waiting for external applications.

Continuous improvement is our way of life, just as affirmed in 2015 during our rebranding phase. Our commitment to social change remains undeterred as we continue to protect the public through regulation.

The NLC carries a colossal responsibility and calls upon stakeholders to rise and be of service to the disadvantaged to help them shake free from deprivation.

If we allow inequalities that give momentum to the scourge of poverty to persist, we would have fallen short in making the ideals enshrined in our constitution a reality for all.

Thabang Charlotte Mampane is the Commissioner of the National Lotteries Commission.

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