What exactly does OSISA do?

If you work for OSISA, there is a question that comes up time and time again. You’re asked it in official meetings, informal briefings and by friends around the barbecue on glorious South African summer afternoons. “So what exactly does OSISA do?”

Richard Lee's picture


Strategic communications for WWF

November 5th, 2012

If you work for OSISA, there is a question that comes up time and time again. You’re asked it in official meetings, informal briefings and by friends around the barbecue on glorious South African summer afternoons. “So what exactly does OSISA do?”

This website gives people a good idea of what we do but it cannot do full justice to the broad range of partners that we support – or how their work helps to promote more open and democratic societies in southern Africa.

So to provide more details, we thought it was time to start providing ‘Quarterly reports’. Bit like businesses do – but with far fewer incomprehensible numbers. Obviously this is also just a snapshot and many important activities and initiatives are not covered – but it does a give a more detailed picture of what we did across the region over the past three months (August-October).


OSISA’s work around Youth and Adult Learning and Education (YALE) and Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE) has had a significant impact on education policy and practice across southern Africa through a combination of research, advocacy and strategic grant making.

OSISA’s in five countries – Angola, Mozambique, Swaziland, Namibia and Lesotho – highlighted the failure of education systems across the region to address the needs of a large proportion of their citizens, particularly youth who find themselves out of the formal school system, with no skills and no prospects for the future. Formerly launched by Graca Machel in Johannesburg, the study calls on governments to urgently reform their education systems so that they respond better to the needs of illiterate adults and out-of-school youth and are more relevant to contemporary economic trends.

All five in-country launches were attended by high-level delegations from the respective ministries of education – all of whom responded positively to the findings and recommendations of the study and are now using them to inform their policy planning, particularly in Angola.

In addition, OSISA’s Education Programme has received numerous inquiries about its YALE work, especially since the recently launched 2012 UNESCO Global Monitoring Report on education focuses on youth skills and addresses the very issues that were raised in the OSISA study. The governments of Zimbabwe and Malawi have asked for similar YALE studies to be conducted in their countries, while the SADC Education and Training Portfolio has requested support in developing a regional youth education and development strategy.

OSISA’s cutting-edge work on ECDE with its grantees across the region – both in terms of implementation and advocacy – has also started to have a positive and measurable impact. By engaging directly with everyone from policy makers and local leaders to caregivers and parents, OSISA and its partners have raised the profile of ECDE at country and regional level. Policy makers are increasingly approaching OSISA for assistance with ECDE issues.

Indeed, the Education Programme has recently received requests for support, particularly around capacity building, from the ministries responsible for ECDE in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland. In addition, Malawian MPs have urged the Ministry of Education and Finance to increase the budgetary allocation to ECDE and the Lesotho Ministry of Education in collaboration with UNICEF – using a grant OSISA made to UNICEF – will adopt an ECDE policy and strategy this year.

However, the greatest impact has been in Angola. Following the publication of three reports – Early Childhood Education, Youth and Adult Education and Quality of Basic Education in relation to EFA goals – and direct engagement with the Ministry of Education, the government has taken a number of very positive steps, including nominating a National Director for Adult Literacy for the first time and making a budget allocation to the programme. President dos Santos also made a public commitment to increase support for ECDE, improve both access to, and the quality of, basic education, and revitalise literacy programmes – even signing Decree 82/12 establishing a national literacy plan.


The extractive industry boom has powered economic growth in many southern African countries over the past decade. It should also have been the driving force behind genuine socio-economic development across the region but instead it has fostered greater inequality and social injustice – largely because of a lack of transparency and inappropriate government policies.

OSISA and its off shoot – the Southern Africa Resource Watch (SARW) – have focussed on enhancing transparency by advocating with governments, working with civil society, supporting the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and producing cutting-edge research.

Just in the last three months, SARW has coordinated civil society’s contribution to the revision of the DRC mining code; trained 25 journalists from across SADC to cover – and, crucially, investigate – extractive industries more effectively; and presented SADC MPs with the final version of a regional Barometer for Resource Governance, which was specifically designed to help parliaments strengthen their oversight role.

SARW’s work in Mozambique and regionally with the EITI – including hosting the in May – also contributed to Mozambique becoming the 16th EITI compliant country in October. Given the secrecy – and human rights violations – associated with the country’s gas and coal booms, this is an extremely important step towards greater openness and transparency.

SARW also published in-depth research into China’s role in the extractive industries in southern Africa in a thought-provoking book that calls on regional governments to take the necessary steps to ensure that the natural-resource based . SARW has also put the finishing touches to a ground-breaking piece of research on gold in the Congo, which will change the prevailing narrative when it is launched in mid-November.

Finally, OSISA’s Angola office published a research , highlighting corruption, lack of transparency and the minimal impact of the country’s vast oil wealth on the everyday lives of most Angolans. The report was launched at an OSISA-hosted conference attended by a wide variety of stakeholders in the oil-rich but desperately poor and underdeveloped province of Cabinda – a stark reminder of Angola’s ‘resource curse’.


Southern African societies remain extremely patriarchal. Indeed, there has been a cultural, religious and political backlash in recent years against the gains made by the women’s movement over past decades – and fears are growing that some of these progressive gains might be lost. But three court cases that OSISA and its partner – the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) have been involved with – provide real cause for cheer.

The most important , where the High Court struck down a customary law that prohibited women from inheriting because it violated the right to equality enshrined in the constitution. But the ruling went much further than that with the judge dismissing the Attorney General’s claim that Botswana society was not ready for equality and arguing that discrimination cannot be justified by culture. He even urged other judges to be more activist to ensure progress towards equality. It was a remarkable judgement and one that has implications for the entire region.

The second case was concluded back in 2011 when to challenge the law that prevented her – and other women married in community of property – from buying property in both her and her husband’s names. While the case is long over, the Deeds Office has finally changed the discriminatory regulations – so women in Swaziland are now one step closer to equality and to the day when they are no longer treated as legal minors.

Finally, judgement is expected before the end of the year in another landmark case in Lesotho challenging a law that prohibits women from becoming chiefs. While the ruling has not yet been made, the case has already generated considerable interest and awareness and highlighted the broader issues around gender inequality in the country.

Meanwhile, an earlier successful case in Namibia related to the forced sterilisation of HIV+ women will now come back to court since the government has appealed the decision. OSISA and SALC are assisting with the case and with advocacy around the appeal – and working with additional women who have come forward to say that they too were forcibly sterilised.


Democracy in southern Africa received two significant boosts following the 2011 elections in Zambia and the 2012 polls in Lesotho – both of which saw the opposition win and the incumbent seamlessly relinquish power (in Lesotho’s case after 14 years in office). But these advances must be set against the flawed and discredited elections in DRC in November 2011 (despite – an OSISA-supported civil society electoral network) that have only served to heighten tensions and further exacerbate the country’s governance crisis, and the latest example of one-party elections in Angola (although the MPLA’s supra-majority did fall slightly). Up next are elections in Zimbabwe and Swaziland.

Zimbabwe is in the final stages of drafting a new constitution – one of the key steps before elections, which are now certain to be held in 2013. OSISA played a critical role ahead of the by funding a civil society indaba to canvass opinion and strategise on key issues in the draft. The resulting civil society constitutional platform also complained to both SADC and the Constitutional Committee when only 80 seats were provided for civil society delegates at the stakeholders’ conference. The decision was revoked and eventually, 340 civil society delegates were allowed to register.

OSISA and its partners will continue to monitor the process very closely to ensure that it is not hijacked at the last minute – as well as continuing to push (and urge SADC to push) for reforms to the media, electoral processes and security sector that are essential to non-violent, free and fair elections and a successful transition to a more democratic and open society.

In Swaziland, the elections – or rather ‘selections’ – will be conducted under the current undemocratic system, where political parties remain banned – and where all power still rests with King Mswati. The absolute monarchy has created a severe governance crisis, which has resulted in a political crisis (parliament’s unprecedented vote of no confidence in the Cabinet), an economic crisis (desperate search for a bailout as cut in custom revenues and corruption and misallocation of funds wreak havoc with the budget), a judicial crisis (illegitimate Chief Justice) and socio-economic crisis (wave of industrial action, worsening inequality and another year of severe food insecurity).

OSISA has played a pivotal role in providing spaces for debate (such as the People’s Parliament), seeking a legal resolution to the impasse regarding the Chief Justice and providing policy alternatives (such as the economic recovery conference). OSISA and its partners will continue to advocate regionally and internationally for the unbanning of political parties and a move towards a more democratic and open society in Swaziland.

Meanwhile, OSISA’s Media and ICTs Programme, in collaboration with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung hosted a conference on developing guidelines on election reporting for the media in southern Africa. The conference, which brought together media practitioners, civil society, electoral management bodies and academics, developed guidelines that will now be popularised for adoption by media houses across the region.


The unlawful decision by SADC Heads of State to wreck the SADC Tribunal has necessitated an even greater focus on working with – and strengthening – national and international human rights institutions. While a sustained campaign is underway to try to save the Tribunal, OSISA is expanding its advocacy with National Human Rights Institutions (four of the commissioners on Mozambique’s new commission are former OSISA grantees), utilising its observer status at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and supporting more civil society organisations from southern Africa to apply (2 more were granted observer status at the latest ACHPR meeting), and urging more countries to sign up to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (which will hear its first southern African case in November 2012).

Meanwhile, in partnership with the Rights Initiative Defendants Rights Fund, OSISA’s Law Programme supported a civil society initiative that drafted guidelines on pre-trial detention in Africa, which the ACHPR has agreed to study – and will hopefully adopt after additional consultations in November 2013. Linkages are also being made with the work that SADC Lawyers Association – an OSISA grantee – is doing to develop similar guidelines for the SADC region.

Nationally, OSISA continues to foster debate around human rights issues. In Angola, for example, the Foundation established the Democracy and Human Rights Centre at Universidade Luasíada de Angola – the first of its kind in the country. While on the other side of the continent, OSISA’s long-running investment in the Mozambican Bar Association is really starting to pay off. Co-funded with the EU and others, the project has developed the capacity of the organisation to speak out – and its current president has become a vocal and effective critic of state abuses, particularly police brutality, corruption and the erosion of the independence of the judiciary. In September, the Mozambican Law Society held the first ever Justice Congress where all stakeholders including the state, the judiciary and civil society met and committed to working together to ensure that Mozambique respects the rule of law and upholds the constitution.


The official registration of any LGBTI organisation in southern Africa is a cause for celebration – especially when it is the first organisation to acquire legal status in a country, such as Rock of Hope in Swaziland. OSISA’s LGBTI Programme and SALC were instrumental in securing Rock of Hope’s registration by building its capacity, engaging with the Ministries of Health and Justice, the World Health Organisation and the Global Fund, and helping to rework its constitution six times. The LGBTI Programme is now working to secure registration for Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) and has already had an initial meeting with the Ministry of Health.

But official registration is very far from enough. Even legal LGBTI organisations find themselves targeted for attack – both physically and technologically. In particular, the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) has faced repeated police raids that have resulted in sensitive information ending up in the hands of the authorities. So OSISA – together with the consultancy firm Benetech and SALC – organised an intensive security training course to put new systems in place and ensure that GALZ could function even when the next raid occurs.

However, changing minds in southern Africa will also require a change of viewpoint within the region’s religious bodies. OSISA has been working to create a critical mass of religious leaders to offer an alternative narrative on LGBTI for years and progress is being made. Together with MANERELA+ (an organisation of religious leaders infected and affected by HIV and AIDS), OSISA organised a training session for 30 of the most influential religious leaders in Malawi.

In addition, the impact of the expansion of OSISA’s LGBTI programme in 2012 can be seen in the fact that seven workable proposals have come in recently from key religious institutions in four southern African countries – Namibia, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Two proposals were also received from organisations working with clergy and religious institutions at the regional level. Because of the rapid growth in the number of proposals, OSISA and OSF’s LGBT Rights Initiative will co-host a gathering to develop an OSF strategy on dealing with religious institutions.

OSISA has also stepped up its . As research on sign languages continues in Mozambique and begins in Swaziland, OSISA is organising a regional conference of national associations of the deaf to discuss on-going work and better coordination. Meanwhile in Angola, OSISA worked with disability groups, which lobbied parliament to pass a law that promotes and protects the rights of people with disabilities and compels the state broadcaster to train its journalists and the police to train its officers on sign language.


OSISA is broadening the scope and scale of its training and skills-building courses to promote stronger leadership across the region and spread new ideas and techniques. The inaugural course on Policy Making to Challenge Social Exclusion, Inequalities and Marginalisation took place in Zambia in September in collaboration with the School of Oriental and African Studies – with the aim of developing a cohort of policy makers and NGO leaders who are equipped with both the theoretical framework and practical tools to address social exclusion, inequality and marginalisation. OSISA’s Media and ICTs Programme also launched its inaugural – and highly praised – social media training for activists.

Meanwhile, OSISA’s Gender and Women’s Rights programme continued to successfully develop young women leaders in the region by running the 4th Feminist Leadership Institute with the Institute for Peace, Leadership and Governance at Africa University and co-hosting the with the Swaziland Young Women’s Network – bringing the total of young women leaders who have benefited over the years to around 500 and providing much-needed skills, knowledge and inspiration to the waning women’s movement in the region.

At the same time, OSISA’s Media and ICTs Programme has been putting the finishing touches to its inaugural for mid-career journalists and media managers, which aims to strengthen the profession in the region and so support democracy and open societies. The importance of the three-week course, which will be run in collaboration with the Polytechnic of Namibia and UNESCO, was demonstrated by the huge response to the call for applications. Media managers, in particular, are seldom targeted for training despite the crucial role they play.


OSISA has produced an unprecedented variety of publications in the past few months – including books, research studies, journals, debate papers and draft reports on a wide diversity of subjects. From the third edition of the women’s journal to six studies on Youth and Adult Learning and Education to an to SARW’s book on China and the extractive industries in southern Africa, OSISA has published cutting-edge research and thought-provoking papers – sparking debate and fostering discussions on a host of critical issues.

And there are a number of publications in the pipeline. SARW is about to launch its report into the gold industry in eastern Congo, while it – in partnership with OSISA’s Economic Justice Programme – has produced four draft reports on the potential biodiversity risks associated with mining development in the SADC region. OSISA has been working with AfriMap on a series of reports on the Justice Sector and Rule of Law, Political Participation and the Effective Delivery of Public Services in Lesotho, Swaziland and Zambia – all of which are in the process of being validated.

OSISA in DRC has played a pivotal role in convening spaces for critical dialogue, including a three-day workshop to discuss concrete measures for security sector reform and an anti-corruption conference that brought all the different government institutions tasked with fighting corruption together for the first time.

Meanwhile, OSISA’s website continues to amplify voices and enhance the work of the institution’s partners and grantees. 72,000 people have visited the site in the past year.


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