South African Civil Society and the AIDS Response: PREFACE. 15/5/2017

Published by SANAC

This is an excerpt from a recently launched SANAC publication, South African Civil Society And The AIDS Response – Recognising the Past, Securing the Future. The excerpt was also published in the Star newspaper (16 May 2017), see it here: http://bit.ly/2qqym3Q

Steve Letsike
PREFACE by Ms Mmapaseka Steve Letsike, SANAC Civil Society Forum Chairperson and SANAC  Deputy Chairperson

The new National Strategic Plan embraces UNAIDS’ 90-90-90 targets for 2020 toward ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. In the words of the current HIV response slogan: It is in our hands.

The South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) has led a robust and radical response, revolutionising the wave against HIV, TB and STIs, and focused on building a collective and coherent approach. SANAC brings the political, technical and community together, as Government and civil society, to build consensus and work hand in hand. We come from a time of denialism, to realisation, and now to the know-how of what needs to be done.

“Realisation” was the coming of age of SANAC, of people first, and of ownership. South Africa has lost so many people because of the lack of access to treatment. However much has been done to change the narrative to one of hope and life. Everyone in SANAC has been key to the success. And civil society has made an immeasurable contribution.

But in 2015, some 288 000 South Africans were newly infected. If we continue to have this rate of new infections each year for the next five years, we will lose control of the epidemic and of our gains of the past 10 years.  Which way do we go? Do we slide back or do we secure our foothold and haul ourselves up and over, onward to ending AIDS as a public health threat.  The difference will be made by will, strategy, resources, implementation and unity.

We cannot allow our achievements to lull us into complacency. We need the whole of the country to unite anew behind the response as led by the 2017-2022 NSP. But this moment of consolidation and renewed projection of the response takes place at a time of serious challenges to CSOs. In particular, CSOs are suffering a lack of financing to be able to do their work properly. Funders are reviewing their commitments for a variety of reasons, including because they demand better management and accountability by CSOs. The capacity of local organisations is absolutely necessary to ensure sustainability and to reach the goals of the response. Funding inequalities also play out in power dynamics between CSOs, and this needs to be rooted out.

Among other challenges the funding crisis reinforces is that of the independence and advocacy roles of CSOs in the context of partnership with and, funding dependence on, Government and donors. This has also served to highlight differences between CSOs of their roles; between service NGOs and social justice advocacy organisations for example.

These matters that confront civil society in the response are also taking place in a very dynamic social and political context. This includes the emergence of new generations of youth voices and critical appraisal of the democratic project. To what extent are the civil society sectors that are engaged in the response, in touch with these developments and the constituencies that they represent? And how is civil society addressing the intersections of issues?

So, the response is changing, CSOs are challenged, and the terrain of civil society is changing. What does this mean, and what is to be done?

Among the questions civil society must grapple with are:

  • how is the response changing and what are the implications of this;
  • how does civil society address its financial and other capacity and sustainability challenges;
  • how does civil society bridge partnership with Government in a unified response on the one hand, and critically hold it to account on the other;
  • how do CSOs guard against loss of their independence as extensions of the response system;
  • how do CSOs truly speak in the name of the communities they claim to represent, and improve governance and accountability?

I believe the continued role of civil society in the response is a given. It cannot be otherwise. People are the be-all and end-all of the response, and civil society organisations give effect to that. But the quality of that role, its relevance and strength, will depend on the answers to these questions.

I encourage all people to take charge. Community matters.

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