South Africa


South Africa is a country with many sides. It is a young democracy which is still grappling with the legacy of the oppressive system of apartheid socially, economically and spatially. Although it is now considered a middle income country, the lived experiences of ordinary South Africans differ greatly with a large proportion of the urban and rural populations facing many challenges. Historical inequity has largely remained, and new inequities have become entrenched, earning post-apartheid South Africa the label of being among the most unequal societies in the world. High incidences of poverty, HIV and AIDS, violence, and the lack of access to quality basic services and economic opportunities, leave many South African households vulnerable.

Poor governance and corruption remain prevalent in the public and private sectors despite recent improvement efforts. However, South Africa is also a strong regional and global player. It has one of the largest economies in Africa with high levels of infrastructure and a strong financial sector. It also has one of the most progressive and inclusive Constitutions in the world and the equality clause guarantees non-discrimination on numerous grounds, including gender and sexuality. For these and other reasons, South Africa proves to be a highly complex development context. 

Oxfam in South Africa

Oxfam in South Africa envisions an equal and just society, without discrimination, for all women, men and children who live in the country. It envisions a society where rights are respected and met through a transparent and competent government as well as civil society and the private sector; and where the country is able to exercise its influence to achieve this vision beyond its borders. Oxfam has multiple strategies including working with, and strengthening the capacity of, local community based organisations and local government on various development issues, as well as advocating for social and economic justice. The key thematic areas which Oxfam affiliates address in South Africa are:

  • Advancing Gender Justice
  • Right to be Heard: People claiming their right to a better life
  • Financing for development and universal essential services
  • Sustainable livelihoods and management of natural resources
  • Saving Lives

 Impacts 2014-2016 are:

  1. More women and girls will have the agency and opportunities to participate in economic, political and leadership activities, they will be protected from any form of violence and have control over their health and exercise their human rights.
  2. More people living and working in South Africa, in particular women, will engage, influence and hold government to account for the planning, financing and provision of quality and essential services that meet their needs.
  3. Reduced levels of poverty and inequality in South Africa and beyond, through an equitable, transparent, accountable and participatory system of governance and changes to policy and proactive participation, transparency and accountability are institutionalised as part of effective decision making in South Africa to yield fair, just and equitable development outcomes.
  4. Vulnerability and inequality are reduced as poor and marginalised people are more resilient, informed, consulted, and have decision-making around the utilisation of resources that directly affect their habitats and livelihoods.
  5. Civil society formations, the private sector and Government will work to reduce the risk of disaster, contribute to building resilient communities – and will be sufficiently prepared for, and effectively respond to, disaster, in South Africa and on the continent.

Oxfam in South Africa have run a number of policy campaigns in order to influence the national agenda and support communities in calling for change. Affiliates in country have supported many international Oxfam campaigns within the South African context, such as ‘Even It Up’ on inequality, the GROW food and climate justice campaign, and the national minimum wages campaign linked to inequality. Oxfam has also supported civil society engagement with the sustainable development goals agenda, including tax and fiscal justice works, at the G20 and BRICS forums. Moreover, Oxfam has focused on key national issues like education and access to basic services, and budget justice.

Campaigns are run in collaboration with local partner organisations, but two approaches were adopted within the country to achieve this.  On the one hand, Oxfam led advocacy campaigns alongside organisations and on the other Oxfam funded and supported local organisations who owned and drove these processes.  These campaigns used various strategies such as lobbying, research to inform debate, roundtable discussions, mass action, and building capacity within local organisations.

With Oxfam’s 2020 project which envisions a more globally balanced confederation with a strong Southern voice, a new Oxfam affiliate has been established in South Africa. Oxfam South Africa, currently an Observer member of the Oxfam Confederation, will be the first African Affiliate of Oxfam. This builds on the long legacy of Oxfam’s involvement in addressing injustice in South Africa and Southern Africa, as well as contributing to a stronger Southern voice within Oxfam International.  

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