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C A S E – A Brief History

C A S E was established during a period of political turmoil in South Africa by a few concerned individuals in 1985. The first ten years of its existence coincided with the final demise of the apartheid era and much of the research undertaken during this period was aimed at laying bare social, economic and political realities during this period.

The period of transition to the ANC-led democratic government saw C A S E broaden its research focus, while maintaining a progressive orientation and a commitment to scientific, applied social research that would have a practical use for its partners.This process began a transition from an adversarial relationship with government to a more supportive role.  

C A S E grew very quickly in the immediate post-1994 period, both in terms of income, output and staff.  This process culminated in the establishment of offices in Pietermaritzburg and Cape Town, and at one stage C A S E employed more than 50 staff members.  Some of the more important developments during this period included the establishment of a dedicated fieldwork division, headed then by Steve Motlatla, which gave us the flexibility and the capacity to take on ever-larger projects.

The post 1994 transition was difficult, however, for NGOs.  Donor funding became scarce, forcing the closure of many NGOs.  C A S E survived by shifting it's business model to commissioned research.  After a somewhat rocky period in the mid 1990s,  C A S E firmly established its  financial sustainability, marked by 5 successive years in which we generated a surplus without any donor funding.  By 2001 we were even able to purchase our own premises. The transition to a more professional service delivery NGO, away from its historic advocacy identity was complete.

The continuity throughout  has indeed been an emphasis on highquality, empirical research aimed at illuminating various aspects of social life in South Africa. As John Aitchison, a founding Board member, remarked in a comment to the 20th Anniversary celebration: “These founders saw the organisation’s task as using vigorous empirical and not empiricist research on life in South Africa.” This tradition has continued, despite the many challenges that the organization has faced.

The most recent history of C A S E reflects an attempt to regain some of its advocacy identity and our clients are a mixture of government and other civil society organisations.