Funding social change: a catch 22


In South Africa the dysfunctional relationship between law and life is more obvious than anywhere else I have been. On the surface it has the most progressive constitution, composed in the wake of a time that marked one of the worst human rights disasters in recent history, that pretty much includes everyone in its Bill of Rights. In the four years I have lived here I can’t even recall the number of corrective rape cases, violent assaults, and murders of LGBTI persons that happened. And while the most visible, mostly because they’ve been targeted quite extremely, have been Black lesbians from townships, transgender women and men have born their share of it as well.

This Friday, yet another Black lesbian was raped and killed. And dealing with yet another shocking death I can’t help but wonder as to what can be done. Yes, there is a National Task Team, and lots of rhetoric out there about rights and about curbing such violence; but actual change seems to be absent. While a man has appeared in court regarding this, I can only remember the idiotic 500 ZAR bail that a previous suspect in a rape case was given a month ago; or the years and years it took for Zoliswa’s case to be concluded.

Grassroots LGBTI organisations working to support the community in these times exist, but they are small and struggling for resources. Having started a new job at a larger, regional organisation, working on HIV and human rights this has become all the more clear to me. A strange catch 22 is perpetuated where small LGBTI organisations in the region are struggling, and on one side they lack any funding to carry out the work they need to do. Yes they are given funds to implement activities, but money such as office rent, or paying those who invest their lives to do those activities, is marginal; on the other hand, questions arise of their ability to absorb funding, to take care of the often tedious financial administration that comes with such funds. At a recent meeting regarding resource mobilisation for LGBTI organisations in the region this became all too clear to me; there is a will to do things, there are plenty of organisations who seek to create change, but there is limited support (both financially and other) to achieve this.

In light of the recent instance of insane violence, I cannot help but wonder about the state of affairs, and the lack of change. And I can’t help but wonder as to the lack of synergy across movements, and between large organisations that have the funds and those working on the ground to change things. No matter what the response to this violence is, somehow we need to find a better way forward to create change, a better way to get the support where it is needed most. Having move from one “side” to the other of this divide, I can only hope that I’ll manage to contribute to this.

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