Mabalane Mfundisi, Co-convener of the Community Constituency COVID-19 Front

“We have to do the best we can, with what we have,  where we are.”

Moderator: Tian Johnson

Complied by: Anna Matendawafa – with inputs from Wilfred Gurupira & Maaza Seyoum


Webinar Recordings & Supplementary Materials:

Date: 01 October 2020


Mabalane Mfundisi is the Co-convener of the Community Constituency COVID-19 Front one of the main partners of the African Alliance and the Vaccine Advocacy Resource Groups COVID-19 Conversations Weekly Webinar Series. Mabalane Mfundisi is from the South African National AIDS Council Civil Society Forum Coordinating Committee at the SANAC civil society forum. Mabalane is the National Chairperson of the senate sports, arts and culture sector, the CO chairperson of the SANAC resource mobilization committee, and the convener of SANAC civil society forums health systems strengthening committee daily. Mabalane is the Executive Director of the Show-Me Your Number HIV prevention project. He has over 20 years of leadership and management experience in the nonprofit sector, where he has served in various roles.


*This section contains a transcribed account of the Question and Answer Session

One question that I wanted you to speak to if you would be the government’s response; we’ve seen statements come out of civil society forum around a call for resourcing the work that you do. The work they have to do, I think, undoubtedly, there is a common agreement that is ensuring access to food, ensuring access to treatment, ensuring access to social services is essential. Can you speak to the response you’ve gotten from the government in terms of meeting you where your budget deficit lives? What are they saying? How far are you? Do you have hope that resource needs will be met while COVID is still hitting us hard?

Well, we were in the final stages in May of our request for resources from the Department of Health, having engaged the Minister and …………… made our requests, which we had to revise.  Remember, I said we had a budget of a billion? We sent a 400 million budget to the Department and went to adjust to about 7 million. And we’re still waiting for the Minister to come back and ts October now. A government of bureaucracy, a government of people, has not resulted in what we thought. The Department of Social Development we’re engaging with them in terms of them coming to the table. We are still waiting. People are talking about us, without us regarding the resources that were ….…..  but there is also this issue of civil society, and sometimes also civil society acts instead of supporting each other and one another, people, you know, cast aspersions on the intent of what we wanted to do. Our intent was what?  There was COVID, which we all never ready for. No one had budgeted to respond to COVID. And those resources needed to come from somewhere. If it’s correct, that government put resources together to respond to COVID resources available for PPE and other services. It’s also right that there should be resources provided for civil society to play a completely different role from that of government.  But we also saw the issues around corruption regarding PPE, which had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with the Community Constituency Front or other civil societies. And those issues were also painted as issues that resulted in resources that we were expecting, you know, on the table. So, yeah, the R300,000, R100 000 was a contribution from a civil society organization, they donated R100 000 towards our costs, and then the R250 000 was the contributions of the 4 Anchor organizations. What happens if the funding is ……….program. The Front asked them that 20% of the resources they keep to implement the project should be contributed towards the Front. The  R300,000 was HIV civil society contribution. We have received zero from the government, but we had asked that instead of being given straight answers, and we have been taken from pillar to post, there haven’t been any commitments I don’t even want to defend. There hasn’t been a commitment to support the work of civil societies across the board. Not that it should be the Constituency  Front. But many other actors in civil society who  stepped up and contributed

Mabalane, I think a common theme on the chat questions is questions around service providers’ payment. I know you’ve touched on it. Could you maybe speak a little bit more in terms of time frames? What are the leadership’s hopes and aspirations in meeting some of these individual costs incurred doing The Front’s critical work?

It’s to keep knocking on doors. We have discussed and agreed that you must mobilize resources in innovative ways, including using, you know, crowdfunding platforms, appealing to South Africans to contribute. We also know that people are most unlikely to give you money to pay for things that they were not part of when those particular things were done in terms of fundraising. But COVID affects us and continues to affect all of us, so it’s to use our collective might. Collective resources to uplift people who see and have seen values in what we have done to help us cover the cost that was countered as part of our response to the COVID Front. So we also said we would partner with other organizations in terms of providing services; from time to time, some people provide technical expertise and resources through their contribution. So we’ll use those particular mechanisms to support the work that, you know, we have done. We can’t cry over spilled milk; we have stepped up. We have put together proposals that are posted with engagement responses until those responses come; we have to do the best we can with what we have,  where we are. 

Mabalane, can you speak to us? There is a  specific comment on the chat around reporting. When and if it has happened. Please just update us. So when would civil society, in general, be able to expect a report in terms of the activities of The Front so far, your reach, your impact, etc.

Okay. In our plan, we had put together six months at the end of  October, where we will, we’ll get to the beginning of the end, I mean, the end of the beginning. So at the end of October, we’ll do a report regarding all the work we have done. And we will publicly share that particular information, a report, where we have been able to achieve significant milestones we will celebrate them. We have learned lessons, and some of them I have already shared them here; we will put them out there to choose what we have done and go to the future to be better prepared. We are better organized in terms of what we do.  so we’re a public institution; nothing that we do is kept under lock and key; we will share that report that will compile at the end of October when the Nerve Centres comes to an end. Then we reposition The  Front going forward from November, based on the decisions that the governance council will be making in terms of the management’s proposals.

Mabalane, can you reflect a bit on The Fronts’ experience and interaction with the research? . What has been your experience been engaging with the research and scientific sector so far as Front in addition to these calls that we host every week?

The first point I want to make. I want to thank you, Tian, and Ntando Yola; that when we reached out to you in July, that part of the response to COVID  also includes various trials that are taking place. You join hands with us as people working in this particular area; you gave shape to what you wanted to achieve? You have driven it week in and week out of engaging with various experts in research. And what were you doing? You were conscientising us as civil society leaders and actors in understanding the values that we have, the values that communities are required to bring research to understand better. We can engage with those who are working in research so that, you know, research that has been undertaken takes into account the needs of the communities that are participating in those things—but also pushing another angle of ensuring that their resources don’t just go to those that are already resourced, but they go to those communities as well as community sectors to contribute towards solutions that we would like to see. So this platform you agreed with us as you continue to lead an important platform. And we encourage colleagues and friends of your colleagues to come to these platforms every Thursday. There are great lessons learned. There are things that we need to know that we now know. And we are integrating those things into the work that we do as we take our steps in engaging researchers in terms of the various solutions. The WHO has created ……… platform, and some civil society actors are already using that platform. To ensure that solutions when they come and not just to benefit the private sector and the pharmaceuticals, they are a people-centered response, and we need to be counted in shaping what needs to happen. So we’re grateful that you have taken the lead. You have taken this bull by its horns again and unresourced, unfunded, but if we only want things to be done when funding is there, nothing gets done, and we’re very grateful for your leadership. And those who have participated and have learned like myself.

At the end of the day, what excites you, what inspires you? Has there been a particular district, a particular province, a specific movement that has really in your mind made an impact that we can all learn from? And what is your hope going forward as Mabalane?

Well, I mean, for me, one is being able to have the contacts that come within civil society. You know the resources, their presence, or absence can either build or break us. And we’ve been able to do what can with what we have and where we are with resources not given. But in terms of the district, there is no particular one, I mean, police have gone out of their way in the different takes place in terms of contributing, and police have fought their way into platforms that we’ve met in law, civil society voices in the past. The issues that colleagues have raised, you know, say, please provide us we’re grateful that people…… moving forward, they also require to be paid. We are attending to those particular issues. We are doing the best we can to ensure that we meet the obligations that we had made to people, and then we’re not going to run away. We are here; those are our problems. Those are our challenges, and together we will do what we can.  I can say that we need to step up; we are citizens of this country. Thank you