The African Volunteers Corps:

a new initiative to boost volunteering in Africa

By Salah Mohamed

South Africa is spearheading a continent-wide volunteer movement as a strategy for the development of Africa. The initiative aims at establishing an "indigenous African volunteer movement to mobilise a battalion of service men and women to rebuild their own continent".

The initiative was announced in December 2004 by the Minister for Social Development, Zola Skweyiya. It comes in response to a call by the SADC Volunteer Vision Conference held in 2002 for more efforts to explore the establishment of an African Volunteers Corps.

A concept document developed by Volunteer Southern Africa (VOLSA) argues that although volunteering has evolved in different parts of the world, it still lacks institutional base in the countries of the South. “The eminent trend is that in the North, volunteering has moved to an advanced stage. It is more formalised, organised and institutionalised as opposed to the situation in the South.

“Though the above trend is beginning to take shape in the South, volunteering in this part of the world is still characterised by traditional, informal and less organised volunteering,” reports VOLSA’s concept document.

The document states that the African Volunteer Movement under the auspices of the African Volunteers Corps, does not aspire to be in conflict with state governments, nor is it intended to be a continental party representing the interests of the ‘new left’ or a loose alliance of organisations without a common vision or leadership. Rather, it is conceived as a well organised movement with a common vision and a clear centre that operates as an agent of social, economic and political development.

The movement is intended to operate at three levels − national, regional and continental − and is expected to work in close collaboration with governments and regional and continental bodies.

According to Mr Mzwandile Radebe from the South African Department of Social Development, South Africa will engage the SADC agencies in discussion around the document at a SADC regional summit meeting scheduled later in 2005.

It is hoped that the regional summit will set up a steering committee to develop the concept further with the African Union. Ultimately the intention is to convene a continent-wide forum under the aegis of the African Union to discuss the proposal for an African Volunteer Corps.