Ending my visit to the USA and returning back to South Africa, there is time to reflect on what I take home from my trip besides good new contacts and lots of goodwill and support.
Well, the first is that the USA and South Africa have lots of common ground – socially and politically.
Visiting the food bank and having an open mind while traveling there is undeniable the common ground of high poverty rates. And in both countries the system produces those who never have a chance to get up – despite the myth of the “American dream”. In the USA it is the system of less governmental assistance and a brutal battle about coming up which produces either winners or losers, in South Africa it is the other way around: government handouts to keep the masses at peace and dependent and after some time there is the culture of entitlement. Add corruption in a big way in South Africa, which paired with the abuse of BB BEE creates a thin layer of very rich people while the rest has to continue to live around the official poverty line. In both countries this creates a gap which widens every day and civil society has to step in with NGO’s and other organizations to bridge the gaps – on one hand a blessing for those who lost out, although every NGO faces the dilemma to somehow also “support” the non-function of governmental involvement and cement the status quo.
Another mutuality is in both countries state organs are used to settle political scores – and with the instrument of non-public run Grant Juries in the USA and the coming secrecy law in South Africa we are in both countries in danger to lose out more civil rights and freedoms our ancestors have fought very hard for. Listening during my stay in the US to people fighting pro-life issues being subjected to prison and year-long fights through the juridical system to clear their names, being observed, wire-taped and somehow threatened it feels in essence not that far away from South Africa, considering what happens to those falling out with the ruling party.
I guess it is this treat to civil rights and freedom of speech which makes it at the end of the day so important to have NGO’s and PBO’s function in both countries – and independent in which field of expertise they are working, they have also to add to a healthy culture of check and balances in politics and society of their respective country. Voluntary engagement can only grow and make a proper impact if done in a society which respects the basic rights of it citizen and ensures their well-being on a level above the poverty line. Maybe one can go so far saying that besides the separation of powers the culture of voluntary work within civil society organizations is essential for the functioning of a state or country. Therefore the work of NGO’s is always also a political one – even if one tries to keep out of daily politics.
Networking, exchange of ideas between non governmental organizations adds so to the “people power” to counter the again and again emerging imbalance within a country created by an over-demand of power and influence by those in government. As even most democracies have created a group of professionals who run the country a lifelong in changing roles there is the necessity of a strong civil society representation.
- Any difference between South Africa and the USA? (stefanhippler.com)