The Structure of AA in South Africa

Alcoholics Anonymous is not organized in the formal or political sense. There are no governing officers, no rules or regulations, no fees or dues. The need for certain services to alcoholics has, however, been apparent from the beginning of the Fellowship. Inquiries have to be answered. Literature has to be written, printed, and distributed. Requests for help are followed up. We need to cooperate with health workers. We need a central body to provide guidance on the AA Traditions.

To carry out these functions, we have The General Service Office of AA. The General Service Office is responsible to AA groups throughout South Africa. It deals directly with members, AA groups, the public, and similar bodies in other countries. The General Service Office also has the responsibility to provide AA Conference—approved literature, which is imported from the US or printed here in South Africa.

A Resource for the Helping Professional

The newsletter AA in SA is prepared by General Service Office staff and distributed to all groups in South Africa, to overseas offices and other interested parties. The General Service Conference meets each year. It consists of delegates from the Area Assemblies, Trustees of the General Service Board, the General Service Office office staff and others who may be invited. The Conference acts as the group conscience of AA members in South Africa. It provides a link between the groups and the trustees who serve as custodians of AA Traditions and interpreters of policies affecting the fellowship as a whole. The Conference appoints the trustees to the General Service Board. The General Service Office is not set up to refer people to particular AA meetings. This role is handled by Area Offices.


At the local group level, formal organisation is kept to a minimum. The group may have a small steering committee and a limited number of rotating officers—”trusted servants” whose responsibilities include arranging meeting programs, providing refreshments, participating in regional AA activities, and maintaining contact with the General Service Office of AA. The principle of consistent rotation of responsibility is followed in virtually all AA service positions. Positions in the local group are usually rotated semiannually or annually. Delegates to the General Service Conference traditionally serve no longer than three years and alcoholic trustees of the General Service Board are limited to a four-year term.

National Structure

Local Structure

Introduction to General Service

The Twelve Traditions make clear the principle that A.A., as such, ought never be organised, that there are no bosses and no government in A.A. Yet at the same time, the Traditions recognise the need for organisation to carry the message in ways that are impossible for the local groups — such as publication of uniform literature and public information resources, helping new groups get started, publishing a national magazine, and carrying the message in other South African Official languages.

A unique Organisation

Alcoholics Anonymous’ structure chart shows the groups are on top and the Trustees at the bottom. Bill W. wrote in Concept I: “The A.A. groups today hold ultimate responsibility and final authority for our world services. . . .” Then, in Concept II, Bill made it clear that the groups “Delegated to the Conference complete authority for the active maintenance of our world services and there-by made the Conference . . . the actual voice and effective conscience for our whole Society.”

The Conference Structure

The Conference structure is the framework in which these “general services” are carried out. It is a method by which A.A.’s collective group conscience can speak forcefully and put its desires for services into effect. It is the structure that takes the place of government in A.A., ensuring that the full voice of A.A in South Africa will be heard and guaranteeing that Fellowship-wide services will continue to function under all conditions.

Today, general services include all kinds of activities within the Conference structure, carried on by districts, Area Committees, Delegates, Trustees and the General Service Office. Usually, these services affect A.A. as a whole.

Communication through the Structure

Keeping a balance between ultimate authority and responsibility and the active, day-to-day functioning of services means there must be constant communication between all elements of the structure.

The General Service Office (GSO)

In 1951 the 35 odd groups in SA got together informally for the first SA conference. This meeting described as “a bit of a free for all” had some positive outcomes, one of them being the creation of a Service and Information Committee (SIC). Business was conducted according to the “Rules of Procedure”, a one-page document that is the precursor to our present day
The office was hosted at one of the group venues in Pretoria until 1963 when it moved to Johannesburg. AA in SA’s first employee was a part time lady engaged in 1964 to run the office. Over the next 20 years the SIC set up the legal structures and AA was incorporated as a “Non-Profit Organization” with a board of Trustees being responsible for the day to day running of AA in SA. In April 1984 at the 33rd Annual Conference held in Cape Town the groups took full responsibility for the running of AA in South Africa by adopting the charter as adopted by World Service in 1955

The Paragraph reads:

“We believe that the South African General Service Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous is entirely capable of assuming the guardianship of AA’s Twelve Traditions within South Africa and of taking over full guidance and control of the South African services of our Society, as provided in the AA Service Manual, and thus avoiding, in future time, all possible strivings for individual prestige or personal power; and also providing our Society in South Africa with the means of functioning on a permanent basis, in relation to the AA world.
Be it Therefore Resolved: That the South African General Service Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous is a guardian of the Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, the perpetuators of the South African services of our Society, the voice of the Group Conscience of our entire South African Fellowship.”

The birth of the General Service Conference and of GSO in South Africa

It is important to remember that these structures where set up as contemplated in our 9th Tradition where “we may create service boards or Committees directly responsible to those that they serve” The General Service Office was established to be of service to AA in South Africa; through the structures, we take direction and instruction from the fellowship, we do not instruct the fellowship. As with any other AA group or committee the Primary purpose of GSO is to carry the message.

To this end the General Service Office administers the following:

  • The General Service Conference
  • The General Service Board
  • Public information Co-operation with the Professional Community
  • Publishing and Distribution of literature
  • Information service for groups
  • Maintaining records of registered groups
  • Supporting new groups
  • Public liability insurance policy
  • Liaison with other countries
  • AA Around South Africa
  • Miscellaneous tasks

The General Service Conference

Staff members co-ordinate and participate in the annual General Service Conference (the group conscience of AA as a whole), which is held each May.
  • Topics submitted by groups/Areas are processed;
  • a draft Conference agenda is prepared;
  • new delegates are given information and support,
  • audio recording of Conference is organised,
  • Staff organise and participate in the Conference Agenda committee teleconference in Feb to finalise the Conference topics;
  • The venue is organised,
  • Travel arrangements are made for Conference members;
  • Conference folders are prepared and despatched to all Conference members.
  • staff organise and attend the Conference Agenda Committee meeting in January, at which all accepted topics are allocated to relevant Conference committees;

Before Conference, a great deal of work takes place:  During Conference, staff attend Conference committee meetings, take minutes and produce committee reports/recommendations for review by the entire Conference prior to voting. After Conference, the staff, in conjunction with the General Service Board assist in implementing Conference Advisory Actions. The final Conference Report is produced at the General Service Office.

The General Service Board

Staff attend the three annual Board meetings, held in February, May and September. Again, a great deal of preparation work is required for these meetings and staff are kept very busy. All staff members are co-ordinators of Trustees’ Committees and are responsible for carrying out instructions from each Board meeting.

Public information

Staff respond to numerous enquiries from the general public. 12th Step calls are referred to the nearest Area Office. We also receive many requests for assistance from TV, radio and newspapers, when a story relating to alcoholism is about to be broadcast or published. Employers request information when they have an employee with a drinking problem, or they wish to institute an alcohol abuse awareness program in their company.

Co-operation with the professional community

Many enquiries are received from members of the professional community – the medical profession, the legal profession, the armed forces, the clergy, schools, universities, and many others.

Publish and distribute literature

  • The Regmaker – Our meeting in Print
  • AA in SA – keeping the Fellowship informed of the day to day functioning of AA as a whole
  • Alco-Solo – a meeting for the loner.
Some of the AA literature is printed in South Africa. Some items are purchased from AA World Services Inc. in New York. Literature is distributed to local Area Offices who act as resellers. In some cases literature is sold directly to groups and members.

Support new groups

A complimentary package of literature is sent to all newly registered groups.

Public liability insurance policy

A public liability insurance policy is taken out by the General Service Board, to protect organisers of AA meetings in the event of a claim against them. Most groups would be unable to obtain premises to hold their meetings without evidence of this insurance policy.

Maintain records of registered groups

A database of registered groups is maintained. We are dependent on groups to ensure that this information is accurate. ​

Information service for groups

Various enquiries are received by telephone, mail, fax and email. Where possible, staff attempt to respond to these enquiries within one day.

AA in SA

The information newsletter AA in SA is published quarterly – in March, June, September and December. It is sent out free of charge to registered groups. It gives groups details of Board and Conference activities, suggestions on public information activities and other help in carrying the message to the suffering alcoholic.
  • Responding to enquiries from all over South Africa and overseas.
  • Processing and despatching literature orders.
  • Banking and Accounting
  • Administration of National website content and meetings list
  • Maintenance of the National Helpline
Facilitate The Annual Convention – while this is a source of funding for GSO it is important to note that this is not the main reason for Convention. Convention is a coming together of the fellowship in friendship and unity – an opportunity to share the experience, strength and hope of members from all over South Africa. Any funds are gratefully received but GSO never sets any financial requirements.

While the above is not a complete list of all the functions of your General Service Office it gives a good idea of the work done. One of the main reasons for the existence of GSO, is for the continuation of AA in South Africa; we need to ensure that AA is here for the generations of alcoholics to come. In order to this and to continue doing what we do, we need funds – fact of life!    The General Service Office exists at your request, to be of service to you – please support it.

Contribute to GSO

The A.A. groups themselves ought to be fully supported by the voluntary contributions of their own members. We think that each group should soon achieve this ideal; that any public solicitation of funds using the name of Alcoholics Anonymous is highly dangerous, whether by groups, clubs, hospitals, or other outside agencies; that acceptance of large gifts from any source, or of contributions carrying any obligation whatever, is unwise. —from the Long Form of Tradition Seven In keeping with A.A.’s Seventh Tradition of self-support, we accept contributions only from A.A. members

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Banking Details



Account Number : 62 747 941 046

Branch : Bracken City Branch

Number : 252242

How is the General Service Office funded?

Contributions from AA groups (At present only 30% of groups in South Africa contribute in any year, with less than 10% contributing on a regular monthly basis). Literature sales Personal donations from members



“The late Bernard B Smith, non-alcoholic, then Chairman of the North American Board of Trustees, and one of the architects of the Conference Structure, answered this question in his opening talk at the 1951 meeting in New York”
“We may not need a General Service Conference to ensure our own recovery. We do need it to ensure the recovery of the alcoholic who still stumbles in the darkness one short block from this room. We need it to ensure the recovery of a child being born tonight, destined to alcoholism. We need it to provide, in keeping with our Twelfth Step, a permanent haven for all alcoholics who, in the ages ahead, can find in AA that rebirth which brought us back to life.
We need it because we, more than all others, are conscious of the devastating effect of the human urge for power and prestige which we must ensure can never invade AA. We need it to ensure AA against government, while insulting it against anarchy; we need it to protect AA against disintegrating while preventing over-integration. We need it so that Alcoholics Anonymous, and Alcoholics Anonymous alone, is the ultimate repository of its Twelve Steps, its Twelve Traditions, and all of its services. We need it to insure that changes within AA come only as a response to the needs and wants of all AA and not of any few. We need it to insure that the door of the halls of AA never have locks on them, so that all people for all time who have an alcoholic problem may enter these halls unasked and feel welcome. We need it to ensure that Alcoholics Anonymous never asks anyone who needs us what his or her race is, what his or her creed is, what his or her social position is.”


The General Service Conference begins with the Group conscience. It also leads back to the Group, since the Group has final responsibility not just for initiating, but for implementing the decisions agreed upon by Conference. The General Service Conference is the practical means by which the Group conscience in South Africa can express itself in matters that concern the Fellowship as a whole. The existence of Conference is moreover a guarantee that the Fellowship will be able to function under all conditions; ensuring the continuity of the work within the framework of the Twelve Traditions.

Conference is a service workshop held once a year in May to reflect and learn on how we as a fellowship may be more effective in fulfilling our primary purpose. To fulfil our primary purpose; Delegates, General Service Board (Board), and the General Service Office (GSO) work together in one of five National committees on service projects throughout the year. These National committees are responsible for the implementation of National projects and conference decisions.

The Conference, representing the whole of our fellowship, delegates the necessary authority and responsibility to the Board to manage the affairs of A.A. in South Africa (AASA) during the year. The Board in turn delegates the necessary authority and responsibility to GSO to run the administrative functions of AASA. The three bodies – Delegates, Board, and GSO are accountable to each other at Conference by delivering reports back to Conference, and voting on proposals for the year ahead.

Thus the Delegates body represent the Groups in our fellowship throughout the year. The GSB is the legal representative body of Trustees who guide the fellowship and are custodians of our Traditions. GSO is the body that facilitates action and provides the fellowship with the practical means for the fellowship to carry the message and to support decisions made at Conference.

In conducting the business of AA at Conference we are guided by the conference charter and bylaws which is available in the service manual. In communicating and relating to each other at Conference we are guided by the warranties and concepts for world service. As individuals at conference we are guided firstly by the conscience of the groups and members of our fellowship and finally by our own conscience in deciding what may be the best for our fellowship.