The Angus Gillis Foundation was established in 2002 by the owners of Kwandwe Private Game Reserve as an integral part of their vision for the land. The creation of a rural development trust was critical to fulfilling the dream of a uniquely community-orientated and people-focused concern that could contribute to addressing the chronic underdevelopment of the region. The Foundation was named in honour of the philanthropic life of one of Kwandwe’s original owners.
The Foundation initially worked with people living in the two villages of Brandeston and Kransdrift within the boundaries of the reserve. Many of these families have lived on the land for generations and have relatives in neighbouring farms and villages. As word spread about the Foundation, we were invited to expand our work into other communities, which we did by introducing our approach to local leaders and at community meetings. Over more than a decade the Foundation has grown to become an independently funded non-profit organisation with a reputation for developing and implementing innovative project which focus on empowerment and self-reliance.
The Eastern Cape is by many measures the poorest province in the country and some 65% of its population of 7 million people live in rural areas, predominantly in the former homeland areas of the Transkei and Ciskei which were neglected under the apartheid government’s deliberate strategy of underdevelopment and continue to struggle with the legacy of this era.
The isolated rural villages are reached by few government or NGO services and the Foundation is the sole NGO operating in most of our focus communities. Unemployment and poverty levels are very high but differ amongst communities. Farm workers receive modest wages and those employed on game reserves are relatively higher paid due to basic wage differences in the two sectors. In most villages employment opportunities are very scarce and largely confined to some seasonal agricultural and government poverty alleviation programmes.
Households tend to be made up of extended families and the population is disproportionately made up of the elderly and young children as many working age adults migrate to urban centres to seek employment. There is a very high level of dependence on social grants and many households survive on a combination of old age pensions (ZAR1,260.00 or approx. £84.00 per month) and child support grants (ZAR290.00 or approx. £19.00 per month).
Poverty is exacerbated by HIV/AIDS. Families affected by HIV/AIDS are more likely to fall into poverty as people get sick, are less able to work, prioritise medical and funeral costs over other expenses, and in some cases, are forced to sell productive assets to meet urgent and immediate needs. The greatest burden of HIV/AIDS is borne by families and communities that support large numbers of dependants. The vast majority of orphaned children are being cared for within networks of close kin. The impact of HIV/AIDS has left many grandmothers in the role of primary caregiver and many female-headed households live in chronic poverty.
Economic poverty affects rural women more than any other population group in South Africa. Despite the government having invested significantly into a social security system over the past decade, for the majority of women in South Africa existing socio-economic rights, as guaranteed in the constitution, remain inaccessible.
Underpinning our approach to community development is the belief that development is not only about addressing lack of material resources, it is about creating opportunities for people to realize their own potential.
History has taught us that significant community development only takes place when local communities are committed to investing themselves and their resources in the effort. So our philosophy is simple – we believe that people are the masters of their own destiny and instead of giving hand-outs we work closely with communities helping to develop and empower individuals and families to positively shape their own lives.
Traditional approaches to development focus on a community’s needs and problems leading individuals to begin see themselves as deficient and incapable of taking charge of their lives and their communities - as people with special needs that can only be met by outsiders.
Our alternative approach is ‘asset-based’ and begins by recognizing the existing capacities, skills and assets of individuals and communities. Identifying the variety and richness of talents, knowledge, and experience of so-called ‘poor’ people allows you to unlock vast dormant human potential that has been suppressed through poverty and hardship. Starting positively by acknowledging and valuing what people already have changes the power dynamic; allowing us to facilitate rather than drive the process.
We recognize that you cannot work with an individual in isolation from their home environment, their community and the wider set of factors that influence their lives such as culture, physical environment, government and service provision. So we aim to work systemically at the level of the individual, the family, the community and with the wider system which enables, and often disables, development processes. Our aim is never to compete with services that should be provided by government but wherever possible to work proactively with government in order to complement and improve service delivery. We have also learnt that human development is multi-dimensional and that it does not work to focus on economic empowerment without also taking into account social development in terms of health and education, as well as the spiritual and psychological work of healing, uplifting and building confidence and resilience in communities.