A decade ago, in March 2007, multi-purpose community centres (MPCCs), which had been in existence for 10 years at the time, were rebranded as Thusong Service Centres (TSCs) during an official launch by then minister in the Presidency, Essop Pahad.
Thusong is a Sesotho word meaning, “a place to get help or assistance”, and the goal 10 years ago was to establish one TSC in each of the country’s municipalities.
This year marks the 20th year of the programme’s existence. In April, the TSC programme participated in the third Presidential Local Government Summit held at Gallagher Convention Centre in Midrand, under the theme: Transforming municipal spaces for radical social and economic development. The two-day summit was convened to provide strategic direction for the new term of local government, and discussed a focused action plan that would help transform local government to ensure radical socioeconomic transformation.
According to the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), there are 197 TSCs in 126 local municipalities countrywide. These are complemented by 134 integrated mobile routes taking government services to the far-flung areas.
SALGA adds: “There are 224 non-governmental organisations [NGOs] that have created access for South Africans through the centres. Information is provided through 41 libraries established in the centres. Meanwhile, there are 58 tele-centres within the centres, which are managed by young entrepreneurs, thus creating job opportunities and assisting to widen government access to information, particularly in the rural areas.”
The one-stop service centres provide information and services in an integrated manner to communities, through the development communication approach.
More about the centres
The TSC programme is one of the first unique initiatives implemented by the government to integrate services across its three spheres: national; provincial; and local. The centres not only create access to government information and services, but also enable communities to access opportunities offered by other civil society groups, such as businesses, NGOs and parastatals.
Building partnerships is a major focus of the programme. Strong partnerships guarantee sustainable and effective service delivery at the centres, and they are designed to be much-needed bridges between government and the people. Practically, the centres do not just disseminate information for the sake of it, but also underline government communication that can empower the people.
Although established and driven by government, the service centres are ideal platforms for businesses and NGOs to offer their services and reach a wider sector of the market. Since inception, about five-million beneficiaries have made use of the centres, gaining access to services from government, parastatals and community-based organisations on an annual basis.
One of the aims of the TSC programme is to implement poverty-alleviation and food-security projects. These projects range from brick making and coffin making to food gardens and sewing projects.
The programme has enjoyed the support of the business community (particularly the mines), where major capital injections were granted towards the construction of centres as part of corporate social responsibility initiatives.
To date, about 109 centre managers and caretakers have been assigned to oversee the operations of the centres and to ensure that they function at their optimum level.
While the social services provided at these centres are a necessity, a movement towards stimulating economic activity within these societies will play a central role in fighting the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality.
Skills development programmes exist in a number of centres to empower communities with the necessary skills and training to better their lives, through existing partnerships with government, parastatals and the private sector.
The centres identify the services the community needs at each individual centre, and often include home affairs offices, police satellite centres, SASSA points, and others that are used as the main service points on a daily basis by the community.
This method of organisation results in the establishment of hub centres that offer permanent services, including government, economic, community and private sector services, education and skills development, as well as telecommunication, communication and information services.
Two years ago, as part of the Thusong Service Centre (TSC) Week, the government launched the Thusong Success Stories booklet. The case studies below celebrate some of the achievements of the centres, as well as heroes and heroines in the TSC community.
One of the highlighted projects in the publication shows how TSCs have the potential to become hubs of life-changing development initiatives – one such example is Zama Ubuhle Kitchens. The carpentry business was given operation space in Namahadi TSC in QwaQwa, Eastern Cape. At many TSCs, entrepreneurs are given unused space from which they can operate their businesses. In the case of Zama Ubuhle Kitchens, the vacant extra space at the Namahadi TSC, which is located at Charles Mopeli Stadium, enables the company to manufacture kitchen and bedroom cupboards, as well as office furniture for homes, offices and schools.
The Namahadi TSC strives to be an ideal service centre by improving the lives of small, medium and micro-sized enterprise owners. Some of the other small businesses operating here include a beauty salon, a driving school, a tannery, and a lawnmower repair shop. All of these projects employ many young community members, thus addressing the Thusong objective of empowering people, especially in rural areas, to better their lives.
Helping the vulnerable
The Mapodile TSC in Limpopo officially opened its doors in September 2012. Ouma Nkosi started a food bank at the centre in the same year. Though she qualified as an instrumentation mechanic, she couldn’t find a job. “Throughout the time when I was unemployed, I would go and assist at drop-in centres just to keep myself busy,” she says.
“This ignited something in me I never thought I had. I realised that I have a passion for helping vulnerable children and women. Mapodile did not have any facilities where these people could be assisted. That is when the idea dawned. I then started a food bank with a group of local youth from the neighbourhood.”
Mapodile is viewed as one of the most successful centres through its efforts to break the poverty cycle. The centre currently looks after 245 needy people in the Tubatse area. Every month they receive food parcels, diapers and other accessories at the centre.