Last year was indeed a challenging one, but we celebrate our continued achievements working with poor and marginalised communities despite the context. It was also an iconic year for reminding us of people’s power. The #FeesMustFall movement led by students, many of whom were powerful women re-enforcing our theory of change— the human rights based approached which places, at its heart, the importance of those directly affected leading efforts for change with support from others. For all of these reasons, ActionAid South Africa (AASA) stood in solidarity with the #FeesMustFall movement. In the end, the valiant efforts of the students paid off and the victory secured was a binding agreement that there will be no university fee increased for 2016. Not only was a tangible victory achieved here in South Africa, but the movement also inspired similar ones in other countries, across the globe.
2016 will undoubtedly present a new range of challenges within the context of deepening economic challenges facing South Africa. Against the backdrop of dwindling resources for the work of organised civil society, the need and demand for our work and support in poor communities grows continues to grow. The economic growth forecast looks gloomy, unemployment is still a crisis and the persisting drought means that food prices are set to increase which will affect the poor disproportionately. We also head towards local government elections within the next quarter when crucial issues of local government accountability and service delivery are set to be in the spotlight once again. South African civil society organisations, like many of our peers in the rest of the region, are struggling to stay operation in the context of the funding and political challenges we face. South African NGOs are particularly hard-hit because we are classified as a middle income country and our reprioritisation for development funding by historical civil society donors. Many organisations are struggling to keep doors open and we regularly hear about yet another historically significant NGO closing down, precisely at the time when the need for our efforts seem greatest.
This year also marks the tenth year of AASA’s existence as the organisation was officially launched (initially as part of an AA Southern Africa regional programme) in 2006. It represents a decade of our work and of having our feet on the ground in a number of poor rural communities. It provides the perfect moment for reflecting on the impact and approach of our work in a dramatically fast changing environment. We need to think about what we have achieved in this period, whether our approach is effective, what needs to change and what our organisational vision is going forward. As a member of a 45-country federation, our introspection also coincides with a federation-wide process of review and development of our next organisational strategy. It is clear that in the context of changing times, we will have to revisit many of our organisational fundamentals if we are to stay true to our vision of fighting inequality, poverty and injustice.