The Thandanani Story – Join me!

NGOs: The untold story – join me!

Steuart Pennington is due to speak at the Thandanani Open Day on 14 October in Pietermaritzburg. Contact Jess at 072  229 9406 or… for more details.

by Steuart Pennington


“I have always believed, since 2002 anyway, that the work of NGOs  provide some of the country’s best good news stories. Among these NGOs is Thandanani Children’s Foundation, a Pietermaritzburg based NGO founded in 1989 to support orphans and other vulnerable children in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.

I have identified closely with the Thandanani mission and am due to speak at the organisation’s upcoming Open Day on 14 October.

“Like so many NGOs, Thandanani has some amazing success stories,”

Thandanani currently has 400-450 households on its records. This amounts to 1,600 children and about 1,400 adults. Since April 2010, the organisation saw 10,000 people come through its system and provided health services to 55,000 people in five years.

As I have often said, “People know what’s happening at the top (where the power is) and the bottom (where the worst case scenarios emerge and get disproportionate media coverage); it’s what’s happening in everyday life that gets ignored by the mainstream media – and that’s where the NGO sector and civil society operates.”

One of these concerns Xolani, an orphan who was raised along with his siblings by his grandmother. According to Thandanani Director Duncan Andrew the grandmother did everything in her power to assist the children and the family was eventually identified by Thandanani for support. After a few years, the family came off Thandanani’s system. After the grandmother scraped together Xolani’s fees for university registration he started his BSc, earned the Dean’s Commendation in his first semester. Although he qualified for NSFAS funding, Xolani struggled to find money for transport and to feed himself. Upon discovering his plight Thandanani stepped in again and provided Xolani with a stipend. He went on to complete his BSc and this year Xolani is finishing his master’s degree and has published his first academic paper.

Andrew says the success of Thandanani is its capacity to build relationships – with its funders and with its beneficiaries.

“Even in these tight economic times, we work on the premise that the relationship comes first, then the funds,” says Duncan. “With respect to our beneficiaries, when we visit past beneficiaries and ask them what they miss most about Thandanani, they say: ‘regular visits from people who care’. The material support obviously helps, but it’s the relationships that matters most,” says Duncan.

Like me, Duncan believes there is a big positive movement of South Africans out there willing to change lives at grassroots level and who outnumber those who choose to remain paralysed by negativity.

“It’s the everyday efforts of individuals, families and organisations that make a difference. This is the reality in South Africa. We are not those people living in enclaves; we are not a cold, disconnected society; we are reaching out,” he says.

And the need to make a meaningful contribution is stronger than people realise. I have often written that what motivates most is the ability to make a difference in people’s lives.

Does the irrepressible Pennington ever get disheartened or depressed?

“At school, I had an Afrikaans master who often confused his metaphors. He once said: ‘Kerels, be careful of change, it can happen behind your back, right in front of your eyes.’ That is, in my view, what’s happening in South Africa.”

Please join us.