By Jessie Taylor 


Despite the numerous gains made during South Africa’s democratic years, service delivery shortfalls still exist in several areas. Service delivery is one of the key ways to eradicate poverty and uphold human rights, and civil organisations play an essential role in lobbying for these.

Civil society organisations provide partnerships for Government to reach communities, and with their roots in these communities, are the first in line to highlight areas in which the government can increase its presence.


Bridging the gap

In South Africa, there are still millions of people who do not have access to basic services. Around 20 million South Africans cannot access safe water and 14 million have no access to basic sanitation. Many also have no access to formal housing, with around 12.5 million people living in informal settlements.

With basic services such as these enshrined in the Constitution, service delivery is an essential role that not only improves the circumstances in which people live but also underpins the country’s democracy.

Service delivery is critical to reducing poverty and inequality. It can improve the standard of living for South Africans by reducing poor health, lack of education, and other environmental factors, in turn having a direct impact on child mortality, healthcare, water access and sanitation levels.

While service delivery remains the responsibility of the government, civil organisations have a role to play in raising awareness of socio-economic issues and holding authorities accountable for their failures.


A helping hand

South Africa has an active civil society in which many organisations lobby for the rights of citizens and access to services, of which the following are a few:



  • Section 27

Section27 is a public interest law centre lobbying for social justice. The organisation focuses on improving access to healthcare and education, with the goal of achieving structural change and accountability to ensure the dignity and equality of everyone.

The organisation works to secure vital resources for the education sector, such as textbooks and funding, while also lobbying for safe and hygienic education facilities.

On the healthcare front, Section 27 works towards better quality and more affordable public and private health systems. Lobbying for access to sustainable ARV treatments and other medication forms a part of its mandate.


  • Black Sash

Black Sash works towards the realisation of socio-economic rights, as outlined in the Constitution. The organisation is concerned with social security and social protection for society’s most vulnerable, particularly women and children. Many of the organisation’s interventions aim to significantly reduce poverty and inequality.

The Black Sash has been at the forefront of calling for the reinstatement and increase of the Covid-19 relief grant.

The organisation stands on the belief that socio-economic rights demand open, transparent and accountable governance, and the organisation is known for supporting active civic engagement by all living in South Africa


  • Amnesty International South Africa

Amnesty International works to promote human rights across the globe. At a local level, the organisation encourages accountability and transparency in municipalities. It also lobbies for communities to have access to information to participate in budgeting and planning processes.

Amnesty International South Africa has also launched the #DignityNow campaign, which centres around promoting Accountability and transparency on the part of government and an active citizenry, to strengthen the systems delivering basic human rights.


  • Corruption Watch

This non-profit organisation has been launching investigations into corruption in public offices since January 2012. The organisation provides a platform for reporting corruption and will investigate reports of alleged acts of corruption, especially if the cases have an impact on the rights of disadvantaged South Africans – such as in the basic health or education sectors.

These reports are issued as a source of information for the public, and a means to hold public leaders accountable. Corruption Watch also gathers data to identify patterns and hot spots of corruption, which are recommendations to solve systemic corruption.


While the Government, especially at a local level, has a role to play in service delivery and the provision of basic services such as water, sanitation, housing and electricity, civil society can also ensure these basic rights are met.

Delivering these services can lift millions out of poverty and improve living conditions. But reducing poverty and inequality requires a collaborative approach. Civil organisations offer the unique opportunity of holding leadership accountable and assisting in lobbying and rolling out the services on which future development is based.



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