Wind the clock back 30 years…

In 1987 when Social Surveys Africa was born, bombs were going off across South African cities and the State of Emergency was in full force. Brenda Fassie had just released her first album Ag Shame Lovey, and in Zaire, Franco was playing “Mario”. The Soviet Union was on its last legs and the United Nations had just introduced the concept of “sustainable development.” There was no World Wide Web, cell phones were only for the super rich and Nando’s had just opened its first outlet.

Today, we would hardly recognise this world, so much has it changed.

One constant through these three decades has been the way in which dynamic and relentlessly shifting communities have influenced the bigger picture that is our South Africa, our continent and the world. Only by understanding the forces that define these communities can we hope to find ways to strengthen them for the benefit of all.

That is precisely what the team at Social Surveys has been doing since 1987, demonstrating for 30 years that knowledge may be power, but understanding is everything.

Social Surveys Africa Logo

Celebrating 30 years of Innovation in Social Policy Research

Knowledeg is Power but understanding is Everything


Social Surveys Africa is proud to be a member of the Africa-wide working group to revise the African Evaluation Guidelines, an initiative by AfrEA (African Evaluation Association). We look forward to working closely with the leading Evaluation experts on the continent over the next eighteen months to ensure that the revised version of the AEG is “responsive to African contexts,” a value that is also central to all of Social Surveys Africa’s work.

Social Surveys Africa Research Director Tara Polzer Ngwato presents at the 8th South African AIDS Conference in Durban, presenting methodological innovations in a study conducted with Genesis Analytics for the Soul City Institute on the long term impacts of school-based HIV prevention programmes.

Sarah Magni of Genesis Analytics presents the findings of the Soul Buddyz Club study, which was conducted with Social Studies Africa. The most important finding was that young women who were members of a Soul Buddyz Club ten years ago were 2.92 times more likely to be HIV negative (based on test conducted during the study) compared with a control group of non-Buddyz.

As part of our 30th anniversary celebrations, Social Surveys Africa co-hosted a debate with the Democracy Works Foundation entitled DEFENDING DEMOCRACY - INSTITUTIONS AND THE PEOPLE (7 May 2017, Women’s Jail, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg). The speakers were Dr Reuben E. Brigety, Dean of the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University and former US Ambassador to the AU, Thembinkosi Dlamini of Oxfam South Africa and Heather Sonn Pather, Managing Director of Gamiro Investment Group. The discussion was moderated by Busi Dlamini, Democracy Works Director.

After several decades in which Democracy was considered a relatively unquestioned and largely functional ‘good’ in many countries of the world, it is now increasingly contested in those same spaces. There are deep-seated disagreements about who or what is to be resisted or defended; and few spaces in which people with a diversity of views can debate constructively to build new narratives and networks. This event was designed to facilitate such a discussion across sectors, generations and national contexts.

The three speakers brought a wealth of experience in diplomacy, civil society, business, community activism and academia to bear on the question of democracy’s nature and role. A highly diverse audience pushed the lively discussion further with provocative questions and challenging proposals for action. The speakers agreed that democratic systems, for all the flaws they have in practice, remain the best option available for ordinary people to have a voice in decision-making and to hold leaders accountable. However, people must actively use their democratic power, including in between formal elections and at all levels from community to national (and indeed regional where possible), as forcefully argued by Reuben Brigety and Thembinkosi Dlamini. The discussion debated the links between political democracy, aimed at controlling power and influencing decision-making within the state, and economic systems of power and decision-making. Helen Sonn Pather noted that the private sector should also be held to account based on a conscientious inclusion of the interests of the people, and not be judged only on its ability to extract value. Several audience members, especially young speakers, felt that there could be no substantive political democracy without substantially increasing the economic participation and power of those historically and currently marginalized in our societies.

Social Surveys has a long history of researching Philanthropy and working with our partners Atlantic Philanthropies. Here is a new resource they have recently released: Resourcing Philanthropy is an online platform that profiles philanthropic giving through the sharing of information, tools and insights from grantmakers, non-profit leaders and philanthropists in South Africa. It draws on Atlantic’s grantmaking experiences and impacts in South Africa, and shares perspectives, information and tools on grantmaking approaches, in particular those that seek to advance human rights and social justice. Resourcing Philanthropy is freely available at

Social Surveys CEO Bev Russell and Director Tara Polzer Ngwato presented at the 2016 Investing in African Mining Indaba in Cape Town from 9 – 12 February 2016. Bev was the keynote speaker at the Special Information Session and Dialogue: Beyond Compliance: concretizing the social and economic development agenda for mining, hosted by Mining Dialogues 360. Tara was a panel speaker in a session entitled Shaping the Future of Mining – Limiting environmental impact and creating value beyond the life of mine.

SSA Director Tara Polzer Ngwato represented South African civil society at the Third Diaspora Development Forum in Vienna (28 September – 1 October 2015), hosted by the Africa Europe Diaspora Development Platform. She attended in partnership with the Solidarity Peace Trust and presented on South African experiences with xenophobia and migrant integration.