How did civil society respond to the Covid crisis? We have the story.

What a year. At DGMT, we’re all feeling a little battered, and I’m sure everyone else working in civil society is feeling similarly exhausted. Covid-19 challenged us in a unique way, personally and professionally; adapting to those challenges have kept all of us busy and preoccupied. That is why I could not have been more surprised when one afternoon in October I found in my inbox, a full manuscript written by our CEO, David Harrison, with a note asking for my thoughts. The book was entitled Harnessing the thunder: Civil society’s care and creativity during the Covid storm.

My first thought was, where did he possibly find the time to write a book about the pandemic whilst working so hard to actually respond to the pandemic? I decided to go with the theory that people with older children must have more free time and energy, but in David’s case I am not entirely sure this is true – he is one of the hardest working and committed people I know. Bracing myself for a challenging read, I got started, but it was not challenging at all; it was easy and engaging and made me want to read straight to the end in one sitting. Through David’s honest account of how DGMT, its partners and many others responded to the pandemic – both pre-, post-and during lockdown – the many pixels formed by the mundane frustrations, bitter disappointments, small wins, messy deadlines, behind-the-scene conversations, heartbreaks, anger, urgency and so forth that colour our day-to-day lives as activists and workers in civil society, came together to form an illuminating picture – one that I am so proud to be part of; and one that is hopeful and inspiring.

“This story highlights the critical role of civil society organisations in protecting the whole of society and innovating in times of uncertainty. As we try to rebuild and transform our society, organised civil society must be recognised as equals with government, trade unions and the private sector. Our nation is one body, and civil society is its neuro-electric system that can sense and signal changes in every cell. Without it, government becomes less and less responsive to need, and communities more and more alienated. The whole body suffers, as does the physical environment around it – because people no longer care.

Just look at the litter smothering our townships and villages. Its meaning is there for all to see, but we choose not to see it. In the same way, the seismic tremors of our divided society are always there, but we choose not to feel them. Somehow Covid-19 caused us to see deeper into the fissures and to hear louder the rumblings from the ground. They became part of the thunder of the storm.”  

In a note to David, Lorrie Fair Allen, the Chief Program Director, Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project, said it best: “The book is a blast of reality resembling fiction all too closely, with corporate greed and government corruption alongside corporate responsibility and government responsiveness. And within this multi-front battle, I do love a good hero/heroine story—and there are plenty of these to choose from in this nonfiction. I love that you managed to capture the types of detail and nuance that I am personally drawn to when reading narrative reports from our program partners – without being there with you, the depth and details you provide is the only way we can truly gain an understanding and appreciation for how difficult this work is, and how extraordinary civil society is. This is so helpful in understanding the many journeys and feats of responding to the need in South Africa. Thank you.”

Harnessing the thunder is dedicated to the people who work in civil society organisations each and every day of the year, but who mobilised sometimes even beyond the call of duty to protect and support families in distress during the Covid-19 crisis. We have 2 000 copies that we would like to send to them as a way of acknowledging their enormous contribution this year. Read more about Harnessing the Thunder here (including two excerpts).

If you work in civil society and would like a copy, add your address to our database here.

If you do not work in civil society, Harnessing the Thunder is still a must read to better understand the inner workings of the sector and vital role they play in times of crisis as well as everyday need. It is available for sale in all major bookstores around the country or visit Porcupine Press to order a copy here after the 11th of December 2020.

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