State and Future of CSOs in Southern Africa - Changing Landscape

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the environment in which institutions operate and has forced them to redefine their modus operandi for them to continue with their mandate. The measures adopted by countries world-wide to curb the spread of the disease that include social distancing, banning of large gatherings (churches, weddings etc), night-time curfews, travel restrictions and closure of schools and businesses, have had major impacts on their financial health and sustainability given the uncertainty of the socio-economic environment. These lockdown measures, which have spared no country, institution or individual, have had huge socio-economic implications across the region and the continent. Civil society organisations (CSOs) in Africa and in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region have not been spared. The civil society sector has undergone significant transformation in the past year because of the changing landscape occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. This policy brief thus analyses the environment under which CSOs are operating in the SADC region, particularly the advocacy and campaigning strategies. The “new normal” characterised by working from home and other safe spaces enabled by digital technologies has brought in different approaches to reach out different constituencies, albeit at a huge financial cost. The policy brief further analyses these approaches in terms of the sustainability of CSOs (both in financial and technical areas), the role of technology and how these enhance or otherwise the operations of CSOs. It also highlights opportunities that have emerged and the challenges that need to be addressed to support the on-going efforts for their sustainability. The brief concludes by providing policy recommendations that could be adopted by CSOs, governments and international cooperating partners for them to remain viable.