From the Non-Profit Sector to Sustainable Infrastructure

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During the course of the past week, Mark Swilling gave talks in Johannesburg and Kimberly at two significant events.


The Centre for Civil Society at the University of Natal and the National Development Agency convened a one day workshop on the 19th to discuss the findings of a report on the non-profit sector compiled by Mark Swilling and Bev Russel entitled The Size and Scope of the Non-Profit Sector in South Africa. On the evening of the 18th, the workshop was opened by Essop Pahad, Minister in the Office of the President. He commended the report and encouraged further research that will support the cooperation for development between government and the non-profit sector. The next day Mark Swilling and Bev Russell presented the findings of the report to about 120 invited guests from all over the country. The participants were mainly from NGOs involved in grassroots development work, plus a few government officials and business representatives. This was followed by responses from all the major sectors, including the Reserve Bank, NEDLAC, South African Grantmakers Association, National Development Agency, various NGOs, and the Ministry of Social Development. The last talk by the Ministry of Social Development was particularly significant because the speech, which was read on behalf of the Minister of Social Development, made it clear that the findings of the report were fully endorsed and were being used by government to guide their own strategic thinking and policy making process. The Minister called for further research and commended the quality of the work that was done. The next morning the workshop was reported on prime time TV, together with an interview with Bev Russel.


On the 18th November, Mark Swilling was invited to address the national and regional managers of the Consolidated Municipal Infrastructure Programme (CMIP). This is the Government’s most important public investment programme aimed at meeting basic needs with respect to water, sanitation, energy, and roads. A total of R6 billion has already been spent, and much more needs to be spent. However, there are problems that relate both to community ownership of public infrastructure, and questions of sustainability from an ecological point of view. Mark Swilling was invited to address the group on these issues. Using the Lynedoch Development as a case study, he was able to emphasize the ecologically designed infrastructure can reduce the capital and operating costs of infrastruture in a way that could make it possible for government to do more with their money with longer-term benefits for the poor. In other words, it is possible for green approaches to benefit the poor in tangible and direct ways. However, Mark emphasized that if CMIP is reviewed, attention will need to be given to ways of raising the level of service (ie spending more), cross-subsidising operating costs within sectors and across tax bases, and incorporating ecologically designed systems. He referred in particular to the Biolytix system which makes it possible to service urban settlements of all income groups without increasing the burden on treatment capacity. This was seen as particularly relevant to the Eastern Cape where there is no surplus bulk treatment capacity to speak of. Low flush sewerage systems that treat sewerage on site and re-use the waste are therefore ideal. This is what the Biolytix system implemented at the Lynedoch Development can do.