Gladys Mpepho is the Chairperson of the Grahamstown branch of the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM). Thembani Onceya recently interviewed MaMpepho on the role of NGOs in bringing about social justices in South Africa. This interview was conducted in Xhosa and has been translated. Here's the Xhosa version if you'd like to read it in Xhosa.
You can contact UPM Grahamstown on 0466222318 or like the Unemployed People’s Movement page on Facebook.
Gladys Mpepho: My name is Gladys Mpepho, I am the chairperson of the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM) in Rhini (Grahamstown).
Thembani Onceya: Why did you join the UPM?
Gladys Mpepho: The government made me join the UPM. The government has betrayed us, they treat us like we are nothing, they make empty promises and give false hope. My first encounter with the UPM was through Ayanda Kota. Ayanda was persuading the community in Phaphamani to “toyi toyi’ (march) to demand electricity in Phaphamani. I realised that the only way people can get the government to deliver services in our communities is if we fight because if we don’t fight our situation will never change.
Thembani Onceya: NGOs work closely with social movements. What involvement do NGOs have in the struggle for social justice in South Africa?
Gladys Mpepho: I personally don’t like NGOs because I think that NGOs are just like the government/political parties. The role of NGOs is providing funding for social movements but the funding comes with an agenda so I would not say that they are contributing because they control my politics yet they are not in my situation. I do not understand why they have to ask for funding on my behalf without my presence if they are going to use the funds to assist me. We are excluded from those conversation yet we are told that they are working for us but they do not account to us instead we account to them. I have never seen someone who works for an NGO in my community or whenever we marching demanding for service delivery so I cannot say that I see their contribution to the community or to social justice. I have heard a couple of people who believe that NGOs are contributing to their communities but in my three years in UPM I cannot say I have witnessed good relations between NGOs and the community or NGOs and social movements. There are a lot of rich people in these NGOs and you can see that they are rich because of the cars they drive. I just ask myself how does a servant of the people, poor people in particular, live in such luxury while their comrades are poor, where are they getting the money to buy these luxury cars? How much does an executive in an NGO earn? For these reason I think that they are similar to the government and political parties.
Thembani Onceya: Are there any positive contributions?
Gladys Mpepho: NGOs that work with social movements only assist social movements with finance for political projects. It seems as though funders do not trust that poor people can handle their funds because funders prefer working with particular people. So I guess we should be thankful that NGOs help us with getting funding for our political projects.
Thembani Onceya: What kind of support would social movements like from NGOs?
Gladys Mpepho: Thank you for asking that question. Firstly, NGOs should work with us and not for us. If NGOs want to assist social movements with funding it should not come with an agenda instead we should all contribute to the agenda. Secondly, NGOs and social movement need to realise that people do not eat ideas, proposals and documents but mostly importantly people cannot survive on charity. I think NGOs can assist in empowering people in the community. I was talking to one of our comrades in Johannesburg and he told me that their movement, with a help of a funder, donated five sewing machines to five women in their community to start a business. If NGOs could assist communities and social movement to start projects that empower people within the community that would be great as it will increase participation in social movements and strengthen social movements. Lastly, I would really like to see NGOs step out of their comfort zone and join us in our daily struggle against social injustices in our communities.