Heading up a philanthropic foundation during the toxic brew of COVID-19, which has brought a health, humanitarian and economic crisis and a fundamental shakeup of civil society has been both a deeply challenging ordeal, as well as an opportunity to reset and grab opportunities that promise a long-term ability to build back better.

So much is happening at the same time. All requires a robust energy for dialogue and ensuring that dialogue and policy provide redress, particularly in a country with South Africa’s history and inequality and levels of violence – particularly gender-based violence (GBV).

The killing of Tshegofatso Pule and so many other women, continues to haunt my dreams. I must therefore commend President Ramaphosa when he named so many of the women and children who’d died at the hands of men during the past two weeks when he addressed the nation on 17 June. This action bolsters his earlier message, when he said: “Gender-based violence thrives in a climate of silence. With our silence, by looking the other way because we believe it is a personal or family matter, we become complicit in this most insidious of crimes.”

Beyond refusing to look the other way, what actions will lead to the most effective change? Not only to address GBV, but the other crisis currently impacting our country? How can I offer solace to colleagues friends and family who have lost loved ones during this pandemic, who are afraid and anxious about friends and family who are ill, who have been physically distancing but still managed to be exposed?

We need hope. We need collaboration and faith. We need strategic action.

COVID-19 has crystallised several things in my mind; foremost is the sense that whatever happens and whatever we do, we need to have a robust , resilient, innovative and collaborative civil society on the other side of the pandemic. I’ve also realised that philanthropy is not a panacea or substitute for other sectors of society. It works well when all sectors are synchronised to play to their strengths. We can do what we can when all sectors do what they can.

It is for this reason that OSF-SA will be partnering not only with civil society but also with several levels of government, with the proviso that we maintain the right and duty to hold government to transparency and to account where necessary, as with censure against police and military abuses during the hard lockdown. We will also commend them when they show leadership and manage to provide what the most marginalised need during such trying times.

During the past weeks, the entire OSF-SA team has been vigorously debating the burning issues we need to confront if we want to deepen our country’s democracy. What is urgent and pressing? What is critical to an open society? With finite resources, a clear refrain has been the need to make the most impact, to enhance the lives of the most marginalised and vulnerable in our country and region and to ensure the sustainability of this planet. Information was also identified as important, as well as the need for a robust, independent media with room for dissent.

In addition to crafting our strategy, we’ve prioritised getting money out the door to our existing and new grantees. I’m pleased to report that we’ve completed our first round of COVID-19 rapid response grants to an array of organisations and movements. Many of these grants were to assist with providing a humanitarian response to vulnerable households, marginalised groups and survivors of GBV to combat insecurities of food, livelihoods and shelter. In addition, we worked with several of our grantees to repurpose their current grants to respond to COVID-19.

We are now looking forward to our second round of COVID-19 funding, which will maintain an emphasis on funding those impacted by GBV, as well as organisations providing a biomedical response and developing and disseminating information. We are also exploring cross-border collaborations in the region and across the continent.

Written by Bulelwa Ngewana, Executive Director: OSF-SA.