Top global development NGOs in South Africa: A primer

As South Africa assumes a more active role in the development of its continent, so do the country’s many nongovernmental organizations.

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South Africa’s Department of Social Development serves as the government’s main provider of social assistance to the country’s poor. It also registers and maintains a database of more than 76,000 nonprofit groups, which employ about 1 million people especially in the areas of social services, community development and housing, religion, as well as education and health. Every third NGO is based in Gauteng’s urban centers of Johannesburg and Pretoria; one out of five NGOs is based in and around the cities of Durban and Pietarmaritzburg in KwaZulu Natal.

Here are some notable South African NGOs engaged in relief and development abroad. Many of them focus on human rights, peace building, cultural exchange, disaster relief as well as social and economic development.

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GenderLinks aims to promote gender equality and justice through advocacy and pilot projects. In addition to its main office in Johannesburg and satellites in Mauritius and Botswana, GenderLinks has project sites in Lesotho, Namibia, Madagascar, Swaziland Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Major funders include the Danish International Development Agency, U.K. Department for International Development, Friedrich Ebert Foundation, and United Nations Development Fund for Women (now merged into U.N. Women).

International Knowledge Management

IKM is a platform for NGOs and other organizations. Its members collectively decide on the organization’s possible involvement in field projects in areas such as education, conservation and community engagement.


Inyathelo promotes philanthropy in South Africa and helps develop the capacity of nonprofits and other institutions. Services include consultancy and training in areas such as fundraising and communications. It is funded by entities such as the Standard Bank South Africa, Department of Social Development, Atlantic Philanthropies, and International Development Research Center, and reported a net surplus of R7.4 million ($909,000) for 2010.

Khulisa Social Solutions

Established in 2007, Khulisa works with corporations, NGOs and government to coordinate and facilitate projects on poverty alleviation, ex-offender rehabilitation, crime reduction, victim empowerment, enterprise development and community upliftment. Khulisa employs more than 250 and operates 26 offices around South Africa; its annual budget has risen to around $7 million.

Lawyers for Human Rights

LHR provides free legal services to vulnerable, marginalized and indigent individuals and communities to protect their constitutional rights. Focus areas include child rights, environmental rights, land reform and housing. The group, founded in 1979, has 16 offices across the country.


The organization trains HIV-positive mothers to counsel other HIV-positive mothers at clinics and hospitals on how to prevent passing the virus on to their newborns, and how to stay healthy themselves. It works in eight other African countries and has close working relationships with national, provincial and local governments, as well as NGOs that provide services such as family planning and HIV counseling. Its biggest single funder is the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, its 2011 budget was $20 million. Staff includes 1,800 full-time salaried mentor mothers as well as approximately 200 employees in areas such as finance, human resources, information technology, monitoring and evaluation, training and program development.

Mvula Trust

The Mvula Trust’s focus is on water and sanitation, and in particular: rural water supply, rainwater harvesting and water quality; sanitation; civil society and community participation, training and supporting local government; as well as disaster management, informal settlements and integrated rural development. Established in 1993, Mvula has offices in seven South African provinces.

Southern Africa Trust

The Southern Africa Trust was established in 2005 to support civil society organizations in southern Africa to participate effectively and with credibility in policy dialogue so that the voices of the poor can have a better impact in the development of public policies.

Southern African AIDS Trust

SAT, established in 1990, supports community responses to HIV and AIDS in partnership with 130 community-based organizations and national advocacy and networking partners in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It also collaborates with emerging regional organizations. SAT funding and skills-building activities support the capacity strengthening of partners and their programming in prevention, care, treatment and support, impact mitigation, advocacy, information exchange and networking.

Ubuntu Education Fund

Ubuntu provides world-class health and educational support to the orphaned and vulnerable children of Port Elizabeth. Co-founder Jacob Lief wrote about the NGO’s vision of hyperlocal, holistic development assistance in an exclusive guest opinion for Devex titled ”Why small-scale assistance works.”

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