The History of South African National Child Rights Coalition 30 March 2021 Part 1

Part 1

At Give a Child a Family (GCF) we have always felt like the Baby Bear standing up, growling and making a “Big Noise” at pending danger, thinking ‘wow, we can really growl?’ But actually, we realised our voice was not the super growl, but we needed a Papa Bear, who was the one who would really growl, because Baby Bear’s voice was hardly heard. We had been happy to be the Baby Bear who let off a growl now and again, thinking it was making a slight difference, until we started working on our strategic plan in 2018. We realised we are not growling nearly enough. We may growl a little here and growl a little there, but it didn’t seem to make such a difference, in the advocacy world.

Advocacy is defined as public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy. We knew very little of that, but we were not afraid to learn. Patricia Martin from Advocacy Aid woke up the advocates in us, and made us realise it is not just standing with placards at the gates of Parliament and shouting your mouth off, sometimes it is a quiet growl but in the right direction and with the right people. 

One thing we did have was a great big network of people and organisations, as we had been part of many meetings, both in Government and with Civil Society, from local to national.  We had good values, good material, and we knew what we wanted for families and children.  So, our journey towards advocacy started because we felt confident that we did have something that could be developed, rolled out, or even worked into the South African Child Protection and Family system, if not even in Africa.

After my visit to Sweden in September 2018 where I had met up with the Swedish Ombudsman, Elisabeth Dahlin, we discussed the situation of children in South Africa, having now experienced Sweden, both in family and society, how the rights of children are so ingrained and part of society in all spheres of government.

I decided we must do something about our children’s situation in South Africa – I could no longer just be a Baby Bear growling – something needed to be done! What exactly I didn’t know, but I knew we needed to bring change to South Africa’s children. We were done with the reactive work, we needed to start working on the preventative on a much larger scale.  On my return we discussed this as a team at GCF, but the Advocacy Agenda had been set by the strategic plan “Identifying an advocacy and communications lead or manager to oversee advocacy planning, fundraising, implementation and monitoring.” The Trustees had released me to do this more and we set up the organisation in such a way that I was not required to be at the office all the time, but that I would be able to start the Advocacy Role.

In December 2018, one of my first tasks was I felt to meet with the South African Child Rights Commissioner, Madam Angie Makwetla, so while we were visiting our daughter in Gauteng, I made the appointment, informed Mayke Huijbrecht from UNICEF, who I also had planned to visit while I was in Gauteng.  When she heard that I was visiting the Commissioner, she said she would also like to meet her, as she had not had the chance to, ‘would that be possible?’ I agreed and we met with Ms Angie Makwetla and her PA, and we had a wonderful discussion; plotting and planning.

Our strategic planning included: A roundtable meeting to lay the foundations for collaborative advocacy (5-6 Feb 2019). The goal of the roundtable was to start building a coalition of like-minded organisations to pursue a collaborative, effective, evidence-based advocacy campaign to strengthen South Africa’s national family support system to ensure nurturing care for all children.

There were 3 held altogether between February – March 2019, both UNICEF and the Child Rights Commissioner were part of these Round Table discussions, plus other organisations and government departments. It was very clear that there were gaps and the indications were that children and families were not well accounted for in South Africa, something we knew, but now the researchers and the academics were saying it too and it was evident in all the spheres of children’s lives. Things that lacked were adequate nutrition, good health, education and early learning, emotional, safety, security, poverty and responsive caregiving.

Mayke from UNICEF and I would talk now and again as we were both passionate about bringing change to South African Children.  She is the BIG BEAR with the BIG GROWL, and I am the Baby Bear with the little growl, as she can move and shake things in a way that only she can. Anyway, we followed up with the discussions that we had had with the Child Rights Commissioner and we all thought ‘why don’t we do a study trip of linking and learning to Sweden and take the relevant, important Government Departments?’ We identified organisations that are working in this sphere already, Justice and Academia and see how we could pursue this idea. I was keen, but of course there were the financial constraints, and I was sure that many of the organisations would be in the same boat.  There were some emails coming and going and I contacted the Swedish Embassy. Mayke made her contacts and there was a lot of discussions about the timing. Suddenly I was informed that this needed to happen on the 15th April 2019 and we had 2 days in Sweden. UNICEF sponsored part of the trip, the rest we needed to find funding for and sponsor ourselves. The craziest part was that we had 2 weeks to plan all of this, and it seemed totally impossible, but I said to Mayke ‘I will push on my side until there is no more to push.’ Meetings and appointments were reasonably established, by emails, some of them through my contacts and some of them through the Embassy. The Ambassador of Sweden didn’t believe that this would actually take off, in her own words.  However, a week before the set date I left for Sweden to prepare for the visit.  I tracked every office down, the distances, the times, met the people I needed to, to set up the meetings.   We had hoped to have the Minister of Social Development with us, but we never heard anything back, despite the invitation and several phone calls. So now transport in Sweden was needed, as it was no longer an official government delegation, which I was then able to source a bus from my cousins’ company, Palm & Gyll – they did a great job. The Hotel was sorted, from South Africa already. Dinners and gifts all needed to be sorted, so the week was filled from morning to night, organising all that was needed.

Meetings with:

Barnombudsmannen – Office Ombudsman for Children

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Barnombudsmannen Office

Office Ombudsman for Children

Corporate H&M

Bris

UNICEF

Save the Children

Childhood Foundation

Läkarmissionen

Barnhälsovården (Child Health)

A report was done on the visit with very clear key lessons taken from each meeting and some the key leaning, for South Africa just to mention three:

Children’s voices matter: meaningful child participation and the need to institutionalise conversation with children in all matters pertaining to children;

The need to embed children and their rights in our culture as to put children first;

Need to unite the NGO sector working on children’s rights; and better coordinate amongst NGO’s as to ensure more effective use of resources and services that are being provided;

In May 2019 the delegation was invited to feed back to the Ambassador at her Residence and most of us were able to be there. A Power Point Presentation was done by the Child Rights Commissioner Ms Angie Makwetla.  

Support was discussed and the ambassadorial team were very impressed with the outcomes of the linking and learning trip and congratulated us all on it.

In July 2019, my colleague Nomvuyi Matshoba, urged me to go to the National Department of Social Development meeting in Gauteng, as I had stopped going to a few of them as I felt like they were going nowhere for a while.  At this meeting I was again being a growling Baby Bear, but this time, maybe my growl had got a little louder or stronger??? Anyway, Emmanuel Modikwane from Save the Children was co-chair and I was asked to chair the Task Team on getting the children back into the Office on the Rights of the Child (ORC). I immediately messaged Patricia Martin, who was now my go-to for Advocacy, and she tipped me on some things that we should consider, and the team that were allocated to work on this at the meeting. We pulled off a very good document that was tabled at the meeting and we were asked to continue in this role, even afterwards.

The purpose of this Task Team was to get the Children’s Department back into the Presidency.  From August 2019 through to February 2020, many meetings were held. In October 2019, a brief meeting was held with the new Minister of Social Development and the matter was tabled with her, as I was in Sweden, Lydia Gordon represented Give a Child a Family at that meeting.  We wrote letters to the Minister of Social Development, including to the President, the various levels of government and we requested for a hearing with them about the matter.  The Task Team were also made up of Provincial ORC’s and some officials from government.  The movement was slow, the Children’s parliament also voiced their opinion on the need to move the children to a separate Department so that they could be heard.  

One thing I had noticed in all the government meetings that I attended over the many years, was that the Non-Profit Organisations (NPO) were very un-coordinated, which I could really understand as there was so little funding available for the NPO sector, that everyone was trying to outdo the other, rather than working together, learning from each other and strengthening each other. Part 2 to be continued…

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