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By Hein Kaiser


Gauteng NPOs kicked out in the cold

Provincial funding for many Gauteng care homes have been slashed.

Gauteng may be on the brink of one of the worst social disasters to have taken place in South Africa. And the worst is, it seems to be inflicted by the very institution charged, by the constitution, to ensure the well-being of the vulnerable: the Gauteng provincial government.

Thousands of frail and vulnerable people, some with disabilities, others elderly or orphaned, may have to spend the winter on the streets as the nonprofit organisations (NPO) that have cared for them can no longer do so.

Budgets have been cut. The provincial department of social development has rechannelled funding meant to care for those who cannot look after themselves to rather address drug rehabilitation, youth skills development and other loosely termed initiatives to alleviate poverty.

And while social development MEC Mbali Hlophe shows off an upped social budget, some places of refuge and care have had their grants slashed by as much as 25%.

Disabled persons facing an uncertain future

Anneleen Rossouw of the West Rand Association for Persons with Disabilities said the 36 disabled persons housed and the organisation’s West Rand facility face an uncertain future. Overall, the centre cares for almost 2 000 people in the community with varying degrees of disability.

“Right now we have no idea what we are going to do. The government has virtually handed out a death sentence to the people we care for,” she said.

Rossouw said the centre’s patients would have to either be returned to their families, where conditions are usually unsuitable and there is visible, abject poverty, find a job to sustain themselves, or end up on the streets, the latter being the likely option.

“Many of the people we care for may be middle aged, but they are at the intellectual development of a pre-teen. How can the government, who are constitutionally charged to take care of citizens who cannot do it for themselves, expect them to survive?” she asked.

“How do you tell someone who has lived at the centre, learnt skills and eaten meals there that it is no longer affordable to take care of them?”

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Benoni Child Welfare shut down

But the crisis does not end there. Benoni Child Welfare has already shut down and several other organisations are teetering on the brink of financial collapse.

A report tabled to the portfolio committee on social development in the Gauteng provincial legislature last month unpacked the disaster that faces children in the province.

Presently there are more than 125, 000 orphans in Gauteng alone. There are about 4, 300 children who reside in about 125 registered homes, of which five are known to be state run.

The balance are managed by private organisations who now face massive funding cuts. The report lashes out at the government.

It reads: “Thousands of children are faced with possible loss of their homes; these kids cannot merely be moved like pawns on a chess board when the state decides to close a child and youth care centre by withholding or reducing subsidy funding.”

Springs and KwaThema Child Welfare permanently closed

Springs and KwaThema Child Welfare issued a WhatsApp statement last week, saying it had closed its doors permanently.

The message read: “[We will be closed] after over 100 years of service to the Springs community until further notice after the department of social development had cut subsidies, meaning salaries by 50%. Please direct all queries to the department of social development.”

“It utterly disgusts me,” said Democratic Alliance (DA) MPL Bronwynn Engelbrecht, who along with the party’s Refiloe N’tsheke has been leading the charge in coming to the aid of the close to destitute.

In many instances, social workers, a critical component of care, have been axed. An East Rand caregiver who did not want to be named said: “Homes and centres for orphans, the disabled and the elderly may end up as bed and meagre breakfast joints where hope, wellness, skills development and any other notion of a positive outcome will be impossible.”

N’tsheke said: “This is going to be worse than Esidimeni. The DA has been fighting this for many years and will continue to fight, asking the Gauteng department of social development to reverse their plans to reprioritise funds. Substance abuse cannot be seen as being more important than other vulnerable groups.”

No budget cuts says Hlophe

But Hlophe called the DA’s accusations “lies” and insisted that there were no budget cuts.

She said in a statement: “The department reiterates that the budget of R2.3 billion allocated to NPOs remains and there is no cut to the budget. Residential care services to older persons, child and youth care centres, shelters for women and those with disabilities will remain funded.

“Our premier [Panyaza Lesufi] has emphatically made the point that our liberation will be meaningless if the poor and vulnerable are not economically liberated. “So they, too, may have an independent existence and their dignity is restored.

“Accordingly, the work our combined departments will be embarking on food security, as an example; will entail the provision of agriculture projects within our various homes, shelters, households and community land parcels to ensure a move away from the over-reliance on food parcels but to enable individuals to produce their own food.”

Les Sanabria of the Gauteng Welfare Social Services Development Forum shares Engelbrecht and N’tsheke’ s sentiments. He berated Hlophe’s plans: “She is trying to fulfil the premier’s ideal even if it means taking money from one field of service to cover another.

Politicians play God with the lives of workers and beneficiaries without weighing up the consequences of their thoughtless decisions and slapdash planning.”

According to Hlophe, the department has been reconfigured and priorities have changed. Yet there is a history of “defunding” NPOs before the apparent step change.

– news@citizen.co.za

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