Current Affairs

colored piece of wood

South Africa, Standing Together

By | Current Affairs, Ethics

We live in a time of massive complexity and nothing will ever be the same again.  The global health challenge of COVID-19 has radically changed our landscape, wherever we are located.  Given our globalised world, no one is immune to this pandemic, the health challenges it presents and the associated social, economic and political consequences.

Regardless of race, privilege, socio-economic status, geographic location, religion or creed, we are all impacted in some way or another, to different degrees. COVID-19 is proving to be a massive equaliser.

Coming together as a nation

All nations, communities and families have been affected and we are now called to action to tackle head-on the very real challenges this virus presents.

How we act, now and in the weeks and months ahead to tackle this challenge, individually and collectively, will determine our common future.

It is a time for a spirit of compassion and care to be nurtured and directed to those most at risk of being affected by this virus. Those most vulnerable that are living on the margins and struggling to protect themselves, to feed their families and manage the stress of this time.

We are seeing in the past weeks of lockdown how the most vulnerable are facing extreme hardships, including hunger, fear, displacement and confinement.  We have seen communities mobilising, organisations and government departments getting stuck in and civil society groups forming, working together in new, agile, innovative ways with technology, resourcefulness and grit to scale up rapidly to advocate and support relief efforts. There is much evidence of a deep desire to collectively face the challenges together and the spirit of collaboration is strong.

A challenging time

Given poor socio-economic conditions, limited options, marginalisation and lack of information, vulnerability and access to resources many face very real challenges at this time.  The focus needs to ultimately be on ensuring that those who are unaware or isolated, living in abusive homes, hungry, on the margins of our society or acutely vulnerable, are integrally included in the strategies, tactics and ways in which this virus is addressed, especially during the lockdown period.

As world citizens, regardless of nationality or location, let ubuntu and optimism, coupled with pragmatism and compassion, guide and direct every action we each take, going forward.

There are a myriad of ways to get involved and many groups, initiatives and efforts are underway, or sprouting up, across civil society, in organisations, at all levels of government and within homes and communities.

Changemakers in South Africa

Consider finding ways to use your skills, resources and any time you have to contribute meaningfully. Follow reliable sources of information and updates and don’t spread fear and fake news. Stay safe, follow the guidelines for social distancing, stay at home, follow rigorous hygiene and universal mask-wearing with Mzansi Masks.

Value your freedom, liberty and health.  Act with integrity. Spread love and compassion. Check on your neighbour, donate to a charity, volunteer your expertise either online or in-person through a feeding scheme or relief effort, call a friend, feed a child, shop for an elderly person and give to a stranger.

We are sharing useful info on our social media platforms and our team is working remotely and available at any time.  We will contribute and participate in whatever meaningful ways we can and where we can add the most value in the weeks and months ahead. Please contact me if you wish to discuss anything further.

Let’s ensure social solidarity, good governance, mobilisation across all sectors and contribution with a spirit of community cohesion and activism.  If this energy is directed swiftly, optimally and in solidarity, with compassion and care, and we work together, we can make a difference.  With commitment and integrity, we can find ways to each actively contribute to the collective action and impact positively.

There is an opportunity in crisis. Let us embrace the chaos. With an open heart, let’s work together, be sensitive to others’ vulnerabilities, yet held by our interconnectedness and common humanity.

By Lindy Briginshaw

Founder of Development Works Changemakers

With 25 years of professional experience in the development sector, Lindy is the driving force behind Development Works Changemakers, a specialist evaluation, research, facilitation and development consulting agency, based in South Africa but working internationally.  She is passionate about working for social change and community upliftment, yoga, nature and time with family and friends. 

M&E online learning during COVID

M&E Online Learning Resources

By | Current Affairs, Evaluation

In the thick of COVID-19, the world is practising social distancing, social isolation and in some circumstances, being placed under lockdowns in an effort to flatten the curve and limit the spread of the virus. The crisis has affected everyone in different ways, but for those who have access to technology, it has allowed access to a few of the pleasures of the outside world from home.

This has allowed some to continue working remotely, continue schooling, take up online exercise classes, and keep in touch with friends and family. For some, there’s more opportunity to do those things that were always on the checklist list “if only I had the time.”

One such option is online capacity development. There are numerous virtual learning platforms, including webinars, short courses, and even degrees.

Online learning

As evaluation specialists, we’d like to suggest several resources for those wanting to brush up on their monitoring and evaluation (M&E) knowledge and skills. These resources can be useful for M&E practitioners, development sector workers, government staff and funders working in the evaluation sector.

Some are free while some have a cost, some earn you a certificate and others not. Some are self-paced and others have deadlines; the options vary. Here are a few options to try out:

Online learning resources – for everyone

quote from betterevaluationFor many of us, taking on an online course may still be out of reach given limited time, cost implications and increased responsibilities in the home due to lockdowns. BetterEvaluation is an excellent resource hub for anyone and everyone involved in evaluation work.

The platform is free and contains resources useful and applicable to any NPOs, funders, government, and external evaluators, at any level of an organisation one might be working in; junior to senior.

BetterEvaluation is a one-stop-shop for all evaluation-related queries, insights, and trending topics. The website includes a BetterEvaluation Resource Library, consisting of over 1600 evaluation resources including overviews, guides, examples, tools or toolkits, and discussion papers. The site also includes free training webinars, links to online courses and events, forums, and case studies.

Another great resource offered on the platform is its blogs. These are quick and easy to read and discuss current trends in evaluation and topics. The whole website is geared towards improving evaluation capacity and practice.

In early April, world-renowned evaluator and CEO of BetterEvalution, Patricia Rogers, published a blog on the website communicating how they would be responding to COVID-19, which includes working collaboratively to create, share and support the use of knowledge about evaluation, and endeavouring to curate additional content to address the current context including:

  • Real-time evaluation
  • Evaluation for adaptive management
  • Addressing equity in evaluation
  • Evaluation for accountability and resource allocation
  • Ways of doing evaluation within physical distancing constraints
  • Ways of working effectively online
  • Resources relating to evaluation in the COVID19 pandemic

Time to start learning

As such, BetterEvaluation has its finger on the pulse of the pandemic and how it will affect the evaluation world, and is committed to delivering up-to-date content for any evaluation practitioner to remain informed and adapt to circumstances.

Keep checking the website in the coming weeks to see when this content becomes available.

By Jenna Joffe

aerial view of city lights

Part 3: How Access To Technology And Other Strategies Can Keep Education Afloat In The Time Of COVID-19

By | Current Affairs, Education

In Part 2 of this series, the importance of access to infrastructure, devices and the cost of connectivity were highlighted as some of the elements required to use technology for ongoing learning during the COVID-19 lockdown.

While these are important elements in the use of technology for learning, much more is required for effective learning.

This article will look at other aspects that are required to enable school learners and students to derive the best possible benefit from technology. A snapshot is provided of some of the approaches followed by schools, teachers, parents and learners during the lockdown period.

Change needs to be accelerated exponentially

broadband quoteA key, if not the key characteristic of the COVID-19 epidemic is the aggressive and engulfing pace at which it is swamping the world. With school and university lockdowns in 166 countries catapulting learners and students into the unknown within the space of weeks, regular plans for upscaling technological access now seems powerlessly pale.

COVID-19 requires rocket-like rapid responses which makes the ambitious agenda of the Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa, prepared under the leadership of the African Union Commission (AUC), appear pedestrian.

This strategy provided what was regarded as a “bold vision” before COVID-19 struck: “to ensure that every African individual, business, and government is digitally enabled by 2030. The goal is to drive the digital transformation of Africa and ensure its full participation in the global digital economy.” (Broadband Commission Working Group on Broadband for All, 2019).

If only, this was in place in 2020 already.

It is probable that this envisaged growth trajectory has now been surpassed by the need to cope and recover from COVID-19.

Collaborative multi-dimensional effort required

While education is not mentioned explicitly in the section above, it is incorporated because education is part of government. Digital enablement of all sectors, including government, and education as part of government, requires a multi-faceted, collaborative effort, including;

  • Investment,
  • Policy and regulatory frameworks,
  • Digital skills and local content development,
  • Device availability,
  • Supporting infrastructure and electricity, and
  • Universal, affordable and good quality connectivity.

Bearing in mind the extent to which COVID-19 has disrupted education in the world, and specifically in the developing world, the UN (2020: 19) has called upon the international community “to support governments not only in providing distance learning solutions that use multimedia approaches to ensure learning continuity, but also in supporting teachers, parents and caregivers in adapting to homeschooling modalities.”

The UN further mentions the importance of inclusion and equity as  guiding principles “to avoid a further deepening of inequalities in access to education, with special measures taken to jointly meet the health, nutrition and learning needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized children and youth, as well as policies to address connectivity and content challenges.” (UN, 2020:19).

While this poses a large challenge to find innovative and equitable solutions fast, it also provides an opportunity to leapfrog development in this important area.

school children in kenya

Education inequality in South Africa

The unequal digitisation of the world has been highlighted in Part 2 of this series. It has been pointed out that South Africa is in a better position than the African continent as a whole, in the area of digitisation.

However, the Digital Infrastructure Moonshot for Africa report (2019) mentions that in addition to the extensive variance of the coverage and quality of mobile networks used for the internet between countries, it should be noted that significant gaps exist within countries, specifically between urban and rural areas. The rural/urban divide as an impediment for online and distance learning has been researched by various scholars[1].

For example, in the context of tertiary distance learning, Lembani et al. (2020) found that “students in urban areas have a significantly different educational experience to students with poor ICT access in urban, peri-urban and rural areas”.

In addition, it should be taken into account that South Africa remains a highly unequal society, and that South Africa’s relatively low rating on the Human Development Index (HDI)[2] is also informed by continued inequality in education.

Against this background, and taking into account the multiple aspects that need to be in place to benefit from technology, DWC has done a rapid environmental scan of resources put in place during the lockdown, and has spoken to a random range of stakeholders regarding the arrangements that were made by the educational institutions their children attend.

Education limping ahead under COVID-19 lockdown

While the bulk of the South African government’s efforts are understandably focused on the medical response, enforcing the lockdown and providing some relief for the inevitable hardship that is following the lockdown, some resources have been put in place by education departments.

From a collection of information discussions with a random range of ordinary people, it seems that early responses in the education environment vary considerably. It is interesting that these responses seem to be informed by a number of interrelated factors.

These factors include the assessment of the risk posed by COVID-19, institutional capacity, technological literacy of key role players, the extent to which learners or students have access to technological resources, and the resourcefulness of individual educators.

  • A tertiary institution who offers qualifications through post-graduate contact sessions, have acted swiftly and have already adapted content and schedules to respond to a scenario where face-to-face classes may only resume during the 4th quarter of the year. In preparation for this, students were polled regarding their internet access, the type of devices they work on, and where they have access to technology and connectivity.
  • An urban Model C School has also polled their learners and parents on technology and internet access, and are sending daily lessons to learners, on their own choice of device.
  • Some primary schools are providing links to educational material without much further guidance. Other primary schools are not providing any learning materials and have also kept learners’ books at the school, due to fears that books will be lost or vandalised if sent home with children during the lockdown period.
  • A school for high-functioning learners with special needs sends daily learning materials to learners.
  • Some teachers are providing Zoom lessons to their learners.
  • Some teachers are providing summaries of work to learners and hope to catch up with the curriculum when schooling resumes.
  • Other teachers say their learners come from poor communities and do not have access to technology, which renders them unable to communicate with learners, and provide assistance during the lockdown.

Various other resources are being used in addition to the links provided by the education department. These include online resources which are either free or require subscription; parent groups; Facebook groups, and WhatsApp. In addition, radio stations and television channels are offering content.

smiling african childrenFocusing and streamlining responses

Our rapid snapshot has indicated that most are doing the best they can under challenging circumstances, which caught everyone total off guard. While these responses will help to different degrees to keep learning going, it is interesting that most of them seem to be based on the assumption that learning will continue like normal after the end of the lockdown period in mid-April.

The problem with this assumption is that no-one knows if it will hold. The situation is simply too fluid and unpredictable to assume that classroom activities will resume as normal within the next two weeks.

It is therefore imperative that the education response to COVID-19 be focused and streamlined as soon as possible. Technology will save the day for those with access and resources, but disadvantaged communities may be affected disproportionately. It is for these learners that the digital divide may become a digital chasm in 2020.

The important role of education ministers

The Centre for Global Development recently published an open letter to “an education minister” (Mundy[3], 2020), where it is stated that education ministers worldwide will now have to make sense of the “COVID-19 mess” following worldwide school closures. Emphasising that limited information is available about the likely path of the pandemic, it is acknowledged that “ministers, educators, communities, families, and learners will all have to make decisions in a context of ‘radical uncertainty’ “.

Against this background Mundy offers six suggestions that should form the backbone of a plan for education (see Text box below).

text box

(Mundy, 2020)

Ultimately things will change for the better

The positive side of a crisis like this is that it may create increased interest technology and motivation to explore new possibilities. “Forced usage during this time will help people overcome barriers to adoption of digital services… Higher adoption rates during this time will lead to a larger base of users, many of whom will continue to use the innovations beyond the current situation.” (Ipsos[4], 2020: 5).

Hopefully the COVID-19 crisis will leapfrog education in South Africa to innovative use of technology, and faster digitisation of the sector.

By Fia van Rensburg

[1] Lembani, R., Gunter, A., Breines, M., and Dalu, M. 2020. The same course, different access: the digital divide between urban and rural distance education students in South Africa, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 44:1, 70-84, DOI: 10.1080/03098265.2019.1694876.

[2] The HDI considers the following dimensions: inequality in the expectancy at birth; inequality in education; and inequality in income.

[3] Mundy, K. 2020. Managing Education Systems During COVID-19: An Open Letter to A Minister of Education

[4] Ipsos. Innovating in challenging times. 2020.

[14] Based on research under the Building State Capability program at Harvard University

african child learning

Part 2: COVID-19, Disruption Of Education And The Digital Divide

By | Current Affairs, Education

As discussed in Part 1 of this three-part series, COVID-19 is a universal crisis, which affects each person in each country of the world. This does not mean that it affects all in the same way. Part 1 provided a general overview of how the COVID-19 crisis has exposed vulnerability fault lines. Part 2 will look at how COVID-19 has disrupted education and the digital divide.

quote from UN secretary generalThe COVID-19 lockdown has given school learners and university students across the world unexpected additional time off this year. But with extended lock-down periods, the class of 2020 may battle to attain high levels of academic success unless they have access to reliable and affordable connectivity and appropriate technical devices.

For learners and students who cannot continue with their learning online during the COVID-19 crisis, the digital divide may well become a digital chasm, at least for this year.  For some, the shutdown of institutions of learning also has other implications such as loss of access to nutrition.

In relation to the socio-economic impact of COVID-19, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres emphasised that this crisis provides an opportunity to “deal decisively with those issues that make us all unnecessarily vulnerable to crises.”

Apart from the eradication of poverty and enhancement of food security, technological access and participation in the digital knowledge economy should be one of the top items on that list.

girl in a classroom chalkboard

The extent of disruption of learning

According to the UN’s March 2020 report[1] titled “Shared responsibility, global solidarity: Responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19”, the magnitude of the impact on the education sector is that:

  • 166 countries have implemented country-wide school and university closures
  • 52 billion children and youth are currently out of school or university (this is 87% of the world enrolled school and university student population)
  • Close to 60.2 million teachers are no longer in the classroom

The map shows the extent of school closures in the developing world, and particularly Africa.

map of areas affected by school closures


In the USA, it was recently announced[2] that schools in California, which is home to 12% American children of school-going age, will remain closed up to the end of the school year. Classes will continue through distance learning.

Impact on nutrition

The problem is not only that school and university closures are taking place, but also the extensive detrimental impact of these closures on learners and students. In addition to the obvious loss of opportunity for social interaction and associated social and behavioural development, an important impact is that some children lose access to food and nutrition, especially in developing countries.

“The World Food Program (WFP) estimates that more than 320 million primary school children in 120 countries are now missing out on school meals.” (UN, 2020: 9). This places an additional burden on household finances and food resources, and also has implications for unpaid work, especially for women.

Demands on parents

With children at home, there are also more demands on parents to support the learning of children during this time. Some parents may have free time because they cannot continue to work; others will be working from home. Having to support their children’s learning will have to be balanced with getting to grips with working from home.

While parents can provide some level of support, especially in the lower grades, not all parents may be able to assist their school-going children with all subjects, for various reasons including literacy levels of parents, and lack of access to relevant educational materials.

(See the section below on how South African schools are responding).

Technology to the rescue

Technology is definitely the hero of the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to helping people to stay connected during lock down, enabling some degree of business continuity, and exchanging key information on the medical and logistical aspects of the COVID-19 crisis, technology is also an education life-saver.

That is if you have access to technology.

As pointed out by the UN Report on the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, “inequality of access to broadband connectivity and inaccessibility of ICTs hinders effective remote participation and access to remote schooling arrangements….” (UN, 2020:9).

The report also points out that worldwide, approximately 3.6 billion people do not have access to the internet, of which the majority are living in the least developed countries.

boy using technology

What the digital divide looks like

Zooming in on the digital divide, it is important to note that “the cleavages that may open are not necessarily between developed and developing countries or between people at the top and people at the bottom of the income distribution…more and more depends— to a great extent—on the ability to connect to digital networks.” (UNDP[3], 2019: 200).

The report points out the nuances of the digital divide:

  • Groups with lower human development have systematically less access to a wide range of technologies;
  • Gaps in basic entry-level technologies still exist, but these gaps are closing;
  • Gaps in advanced technologies are widening.

Despite these nuances, the report shows that higher levels of human development and greater access to technology goes together, and that despite the fast pace and enormous impact of the digital revolution, it is “far from universal”.

For example:

  • “…in 2017 almost 2 billion people still did not use a mobile phone…”
  • “…of the 5 billion mobile subscribers in the world, nearly 2 billion—most of them in low- and middle- income countries—do not have access to the internet…”
  • “…in 2017 the number of fixed broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants was only 13.3 globally and 9.7 in developing countries…”
  • “…the number of mobile broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants was 103.6 in developed countries compared with only 53.6 in developing countries…”

(UNDP, 2019: 201)

classroom of students

The implications of the digital divide for becoming part of the learning society

Unequal access to entry-level technologies, such as mobile phones including basic service has been shrinking in the past ten years (see table below).

Mobile subscriptions per 100 inhabitants20072017
Developed countries102127
Developing countries3999

(Source: Development Works Changemakers. Derived from UNDP Human Development Report, 2019)

According to the Digital Infrastructure Moonshot for Africa Report (2019: 60 – 61), broadband access in South Africa in 2018, was significantly better than for Africa as a whole:

  • Broadband[4] penetration was 53%, and the regional[5] average was and estimated 31%; and
  • 4G mobile broadband[6] penetration was 32% in 2018, and the regional average was 9%.

Access to technologies described as “more empowering” (technologies that allow users to access more content and to produce content) have not improved to the same extent. Countries at lower human development levels have made the least progress, and this trend is consistent with widening gaps in installed broadband capacity.

According to the UNDP report (2010: 202), “…the distinction between the number of telecommunication subscriptions and the availability of bandwidth mattered little when there was only fixed-line telephony, since all the connections had essentially the same bandwidth. But as artificial intelligence and related technologies continue to evolve, bandwidth will be increasingly important (as will be cloud computing, which depends on the ability to connect computers with each other). “

Additional factors

Another factor that contributes to the digital divide is that new technology is often expensive, which makes it less accessible to persons with lower income, especially at the beginning of the diffusion process.

Also, inequalities are larger for advanced technologies, which include computer, internet or broadband. This means that while improved access to mobile technology has “empowered traditionally marginalized and excluded people… digital gaps can also become barriers not only in accessing services or enabling economic transactions but also in being part of a “learning society.” (UNDP, 2019: 203).

A third aspect of access to digital communication and learning is the cost of data. Econometric studies conducted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)[7] suggests that a 10% drop in mobile broadband prices could boost adoption of mobile broadband technology by more than 3.1%.

inequality in the classroom and society

Opportunities for learning during lockdown

Whether or not learners and students will continue learning during lockdown will depend on a wide range of factors, and it is clear that for some it will be much easier to continue with their education than for others. In our society, which remains unequal, the impacts of school and university closures will have the greatest impact on poor and disadvantaged learners and students.

Despite various impediments to learning during lockdown, especially in disadvantaged communities, progress made regarding digital coverage in the developing world is encouraging and the COVID-19 crisis highlights that this is an area that needs further rapid transformation.

In South Africa, the February 2020 Competition Commission report which urged mobile operators to reduce data prices came none too soon, and will hopefully help young people to continue learning, at least to some extent during COVID-2019 lockdown. In addition, it is noted and commended that the South African government, including education departments, have made provision for access to resources that do not require data.

For more on what is needed for optimal access to the digital economy and digital learning, see Part 3 of this series, which also looks at the interim arrangements put in place for school learners to access educational materials during lockdown.

By Fia van Rensburg

[1] UN website

[2] Kohli, S. and Blume, H. 2020. Public schools expected to remain closed for the rest of the academic year, Newsom says. Los Angeles Times.

[3] Human Development Report. 2019.

[4] Defined as average download speeds of 256 Kbps or greater while the target download speeds by 2021 is 3 Mbps.

[5] Regional refers to Africa

[6] Defined as average download speeds of 10 Mbps or greater

[7] Broadband Commission Working Group on Broadband for All. 2019. Digital Infrastructure Moonshot for Africa.

vulnerability in informal settlments

Part 1: How The COVID-19 Crisis Has Exposed Vulnerability Fault Lines

By | Current Affairs, Ethics

This part 1 of a 3-part series provides a general overview of how the COVID-19 crisis has exposed vulnerability fault lines.

COVID-19 is a universal crisis, which affects each person in each country of the world. This does not mean that it affects all in the same way.

This article looks at how existing vulnerabilities have been exposed by responses to slow down the spread of the virus, and how access to technology and tech-savvy enables responsiveness and resilience in adapting to the “new normal” under lockdown in everyday life and in education.

An unexpected and exceptionally challenging global crisis

At the launch of the UN’s report on the socio-economic impact of COVID-19, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres said that the world is facing the most challenging crisis since World War II.

A crisis is a situation of instability and danger or a period of upheaval. It can also be defined as “a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined”, or a turning point. In a medical context, it is a point at which “decisive change” occurs, or it could be used to describe the change itself.

Indeed, the COVID-19 crisis has brought the world to the point where nothing will ever be the same again, simply because of the way in which this crisis has affected the psyche of the world. We are much less safe and prepared for disruptive change than what we thought. And this applies to all areas of life.

Covid-19 is a health risk

Countries on lockdown all around the world

We cannot significantly change what is happening at the moment. Already on 25 March 2020, it was reported that 20% of the world’s population was under lockdown[1], and the number of people confined to their homes is increasing with more countries implementing lockdowns, extending lockdowns, or implementing stricter physical distancing regulations.

While most agree that lockdown is the only way in which the speed of the virus spreading can be slowed down, there is also widespread agreement that the economic implications of these measures will have a crippling impact on economies worldwide.

The impact of COVID-19 and lockdowns does not only affect economic activities, markets and trade – it has an impact on each and every aspect of life. At the launch of the UN’s report on the socio-economic impact of COVID-19, Guterres emphasised that countries had to unite, not only to fight and beat the virus but also to deal with its “profound consequences”[2].

Importantly, he said that it would be important to “deal decisively with those issues that make us all unnecessarily vulnerable to crisis”. Vulnerability is indeed a fault line that has been exposed in the past few weeks, in ways that the world has not seen before.

The fault lines of physical vulnerability

The virus itself is a more significant threat for persons with existing medical conditions which makes them vulnerable already: diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. The world is waiting in anticipation for the knowledge that will emanate from countries which have populations with a high incidence of HIV, TB and malnutrition.

While there is no data on the impact of COVID-19 on persons living with HIV and TB, we know that their vulnerability will be amplified. Another vulnerability that is magnified by COVID-19 is age, given that many older persons already have pre-existing medical conditions, and as is evident from mortality rates, which shows a substantially higher death rate for older persons. Particularly those over 70 years of age.

covid-19 fatality rate by age

Source: as on 1 April 2020

Exacerbated existing social challenges

Other vulnerabilities that have been highlighted by lockdown are along the lines of social and economic demographics. The lockdown saw local authorities, social development agencies, community and faith-based organisations under severe pressure to provide shelter for the homeless.

The vulnerabilities associated with homelessness are not new, and to date, South Africa has been grappling with how to help large numbers of homeless persons, including youth, who sleep on the street every night, and who make a living on the streets. Hopefully, the temporary solutions implemented during lock-down can ignite change that will see better accommodation of this vulnerable group in future.

The COVID-19 lockdown also highlighted how existing issues regarding informal and overcrowded housing, water and sanitation increases vulnerabilities under a huge section of the South African population. Without access to running water and with communal toilet facilities, it is impossible to implement the hygiene standards required to prevent transmission of the virus.

This crisis is a stark reminder that too many South Africans have become accustomed to living in conditions that are detrimental to their health, and which poses a nearly unmanageable risk under current circumstances.

township in south africa

There is a down-side to public transport

The COVID-19 crisis has even brought unintended negative consequences of using public transport to the fore. Although many South Africans have increased their use of public transport, many still have the option of using private vehicles – something which has now become a safety mechanism. For the majority in our country, this is not an option, and being mobile has now become a major risk.

e-Commerce is not for all

Inequality in South Africa cuts through all aspects of life, including access to technology. In addition to the obvious advantage of technology as a way to access up to date information on a rapidly changing situation, it also makes it easier for some to practice physical distancing.

Those with connectivity and devices are exponentially better positioned to navigate the treacherous and unknown terrain created by COVID-19. For most of the middle class, salaries are deposited into accounts, debit orders go off automatically, and electronic transactions are done in the comfort and safety of homes.

Some of the most vulnerable in our country, who receive pensions, disability and child grants, the only option is to gather in groups, stand in long queues, and are unable to practice physical distancing as prescribed.

Online shopping is reserved for the privileged, and the rest have to take the risk of going to a shop, where the risk of coming into contact with people who are ill but non-symptomatic is a very real possibility. And as the incidence of the illness magnifies, this risk will also magnify when going shopping.

Bracing for tough economic times

The COVID-19 lockdown seems to have hit economically vulnerable people the hardest. The vulnerability of the informal sector and SSMEs have been exposed in an almost brutal manner.  The service industry, non-food and medical supply retailers and wholesalers, transport operators, the tourism and hospitality businesses have taken the knock head-on.

These sectors also have large numbers of casual and temporary workers, who are now sitting at home, many without pay. Hopefully, calls to employers of domestic workers to keep on paying salaries during lockdown will be heeded, as long as employers themselves have an income, and given the need to keep food supply up and running will to some extent protect agricultural workers.

During the lockdown, many who usually rely on information and communications technology to do their jobs, seem to be least affected in the short term. With access to technology at home, they can continue to work, albeit with some modifications needed to their modus operandi.

While the economic impact following the immediate COVID-19 crisis will ultimately affect all, the urgency of embracing the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), has been highlighted.

Uncertainty about the education calendar

It has taken only a few days for the euphoria about an extended school holiday to be replaced by questions on how learners will catch up on lost classroom instruction. It seems that a systematic response is still lacking and that there are diverse strategies in place for assisting learners during this time.

Under lockdown, technology is the obvious solution, but in one of the most unequal societies[3] In the world, the current situation may disadvantage learners who do not have access to technology because of lower economic status even further.


Resilience and solidarity

It is clear that the current situation calls for resilience, innovation and collaboration like never before. There have been several encouraging initiatives aimed at pooling resources, finding solutions and coming up with innovations. Most of these are focused on the immediate physical needs of vulnerable persons, on alleviating immediate economic pressures, and assisting with medical responses.

Many in the education sector seem to operate from the assumption that schools will go back to operating as usual at the end of the 21-day lockdown. It is unlikely that this assumption will hold, and soon it will be necessary to provide urgent and tangible solutions to ensure that learning can continue for the class of 2020.

While not underestimating the dire consequences of the inherent vulnerabilities in our society as a result of inequality, the positive side of this crisis is that it has woken us up to how important it is to urgently address these issues and to bring about changes that will enhance our capacity to navigate challenging circumstances.

Find out more about how Development Works Changemakers is involved in research, development and evaluation projects.

By Fia van Rensburg

[1] Business Insider: Countries on lockdown

[2] United Nations report on socio economic impacts of COVID-19

[3]South Africa suffers among the highest levels of inequality in the world when measured by the commonly used Gini index. Inequality manifests itself through a skewed income distribution, unequal access to opportunities, and regional disparities. Low growth and rising unemployment have contributed to the persistence of inequality. Source: IMF

Africa's illegal drug trade

Africa’s illegal drug epidemic fuelled by organised crime and ineffective policy

By | Community, Current Affairs, Research

Over time, there has been a huge rise in the illegal drug trade in Africa. The number of drug users is estimated to increase to a total of 14 million drug users by 2050. 

ENACT, a project that builds knowledge and skills to enhance Africa’s response to transnational organised crime, recently published a press release that explores the causes of this epidemic. 

From organised crime and weak governmental policies, Africa’s drug trade is expanding at a rapid rate. 

Overview of the drug trade in Africa

While Africa was previously only considered as a transit region for drug trafficking, today the continent is increasingly becoming a consumer and destination market for all forms of drug abuse.

The distribution of individuals using illicit drugs in African regions during 2018 was as follows:

  • West Africa – 55% – 5.7 million
  • Eastern Africa – 19% – 1.9 million
  • Southern Africa – 12% – 1.3 million
  • Northern Africa – 8% – 0.8 million
  • Central Africa – 6% – 0.6 million

ENACT shares that, “In the past few decades alone, the number of people in West Africa who use illegal drugs or prescription opioids for a non-medical purpose has more than tripled from an estimated 1.6 million in 1990 to 5.7 million in 2018.” 

“In the next 30 years, sub-Saharan Africa will see the world’s biggest surge in illicit drug users, with its share of global drug consumption projected to double.”

Reasons for the rise of the drug trade

The rise of the presence of illicit drugs in Africa is due to far more than just addiction. In areas where organised gangs and corrupt politicians run the show, the drug trade has free reign. 

Organised crime

Africa has a reputation for it’s organised crime that has spread on a global scale. These groups work in syndicates to trade all sorts of illegal produce. This poses a threat to the environment, health and safety of individuals, and to the escalation of the drug trade.

From the illegal trade of pangolins and perlemoen, to cross border arms trafficking. These organised crime groups are causing environmental damage and fuelling national conflict. These trade routes are well established – and greatly feared – making the movement of illicit drugs both convenient and lucrative. 

ENACT quotes, “West Africa’s role has also expanded as a global trafficking hub for drugs, particularly cocaine. An underground economy has developed around the production and distribution of methamphetamines, particularly in Nigeria. A growing heroin economy has emerged from the international drug smuggling route down the East Coast of Africa for shipment to international markets.”

Weak policies

Sadly, organised crime has found loopholes in the system. By taking advantage of weak policies and partnering up with corrupt government officials. The African drug market is becoming increasingly sophisticated. Criminals take advantage of secure innovations to further their business. Such as blockchain technology, cryptocurrencies and various trading platforms on the dark web. 

Criminal governance systems are facilitating drug trafficking along various routes, such as the East African coast which has become a frequented route for heroin trade. The heroin trade in this area “plays a significant role in local and national politics in countries along the eastern seaboard of Africa”. 

This lucrative trade becomes attractive for corrupt officials, making the epidemic even more challenging to counter. 

“Participation in drug trafficking offers political, security and business leaders windfall profits, says Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime’s Mark Shaw, an organised crime expert. ‘They can conduct electoral and security campaigns, feed patronage systems, or take a fast track to wealth and power. In turn, politicians and security leaders can offer traffickers protection or even assistance.”

Recommended solutions

The African drug trade and the politics that they are attached to are complex and controversial. When criminals hold as much power as they do then various communities are put at risk when these groups are challenged. 

There needs to be an intention and proactivity in creating sustainable drug intervention programmes. The response to the demand for the drug trade in Africa needs to be supported with strategy, evaluation and research. 

The drug trade fuels crime and violence, with drug proliferation leading to increased levels of crime and violence in communities. This heightens safety risks.  Over the years, Development Works Changemakers (DWC) has been involved in several projects relating to the crime and safety sector. These include research into various crime and safety aspects and evaluations of projects designed to reduce crime and create safer communities. These projects include, but are not limited to: 

  • Midterm evaluation of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation’s five-year strategic implementation plan
  • United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime baseline, endline and impact assessment of the Line Up Live Up Programme in South Africa
  • Implementation and evaluation of substance abuse programmes for the Western Cape Provincial Government, Department of Social Development
  • Implementation and evaluation of the youth safety and partnership programme for the Western Cape Provincial Government, Department of Community Safety

The drug trade cannot be eradicated – but a deeper understanding of the causes and effects is imperative. Greater efforts, alliances and commitments are required to fund, resource, plan, prioritise and implement policies, strategies and programs to better deal with this epidemic and the negative and damaging impact on communities.

For more information on best practices in the crime and safety sector, if you need help to design a new programme, or evaluate an existing programme, please contact Lindy Briginshaw on

drug trade route

mental health day

Breaking the Stigma of Mental Health

By | Current Affairs | 6,226 Comments

Did you know that roughly over one billion people globally have a mental, neurodevelopment or substance use disorder? In fact, almost 50% of Americans suffer from mental health issues at some point in their lives. Sadly, the stigma of mental health is a negative one. 

The World Health Organization highlights how the age-adjusted suicide rate in India per 100,000 population is 21.1. In addition, 22 people commit suicide every 24 hours in South Africa (according to SADAG), and suicide rates have increased by 24% among Brazilian teens (The Rio Times).

These statistics cannot be ignored. And yet there is still a predominant issue that places mental health as a threatening or uncomfortable topic. 

Addressing the stigma of mental health is the first step in changing these figures for the positive.  World Mental Health Day aims to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world by mobilizing effort in support of mental health. This year, in 2019, the focus is on suicide prevention. 

The stigma of mental health

Psychology Today describes the two main types of mental health stigma. The first is the social stigma which consists of prejudice attitudes and discriminating behaviour directed towards people with mental health problems. This is largely based on the label that they are given. 

The second type of stigma is the perceived stigma (or self-stigma) which is when the person who suffers from mental health adopts feelings of shame and suffering. 

Sadly, this stigma has drastic effects on people who suffer from mental health. This can be seen in the following ways: 

  • A challenging recovery as the stigma erodes self-confidence and encourages fear. 
  • The promotion of discrimination makes it difficult for sufferers to live a normal life by being assumed as incompetent.
  • Increased isolation as the fear of negative attitudes and misunderstanding causes people to withdraw. 

How to break the stigma of mental health

It’s a sad reality that many people struggle with mental health issues without support. This can drastically affect their performance in the workplace, in school and in the home. 

Key factors in breaking the stigma of mental health require action. Here are 9 effective ways to overcome the shame that many people feel, and lighten the burden of mental health issues. 

1. Create an open platform

The more that people speak out loud about their experiences with mental health – whether it be personally or with a loved one – the more relatable the conversation becomes. This renounces the topic of mental health as being taboo and makes it something that is discussed and better understood. 

2. Education is key

A lot of the mental health stigma is founded in misunderstandings and lack of education. Rather than getting defensive when overhearing someone speaks disrespectfully about mental health, try to use the situation as a learning opportunity. The more that people speak about mental health issues, the better the understanding of them will become. 

3. Be conscious of your language

Using certain words related to mental health conditions as adjectives is being increasingly recognised as an offensive habit. Avoiding these words as descriptions is key to breaking the stigma, and gently speaking up against others that do use these adjectives can help as well.

4. Encourage equality

By understanding that mental health problems are illnesses, it encourages more respect and patience. Be kind in explaining the facts of mental health to people who don’t understand, encouraging them to think twice about making unfair comments. 

5. Be compassionate 

Never underestimate just how much meaning a simple act of kindness can carry. People struggling with mental health issues carry a huge burden that is not visible to the public eye. Be compassionate in the way that you engage with people, as you may not know the struggles that they endure. 

6. Empower

Rather than pity mental health issues, the story can be used to empower. It’s easy for those who struggle with mental health to feel shame and despair. Choosing to own one’s own life removes the opportunity for anyone else to dictate their life meaning. 

7. Speak up

When you hear or see ignorant comments on mainstream media or social media, take the opportunity to speak up against the ridicule. People often get away with bad behaviour when others are silent in response.  

8. Be honest

There’s no shame in seeing a therapist or psychiatrist. In the same way that people visit a general doctor, so do therapists play an important role in keeping the mental health of an individual in check. Being open and honest about the role that a therapist may play in your life, without the fear of being judged, is a sure way to reduce the negative stigma. 

9. Don’t self-indulge

Fighting the stigma starts with yourself. Often easier said than done, but by refusing to hide behind shame or fear, you are taking a strong stand against the negative connotations attached to mental health.

An empowering result

A collective voice is a powerful voice. Whether you suffer from mental health issues yourself or have a loved one who you support, it’s important to know that you are not alone. Don’t give up. You matter. 

The team at DWC stands with those dedicated to breaking the stigma of mental health. Our compassionate, supportive team brings an open mind and experience into every evaluation or research project