Philanthropy as an agent of transformation.

Author:Mottiar, Shauna
Position:GUEST COLUMN
 
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Following Bill Gates' and warren buffett's pledge to give away their fortunes in philanthropic ventures, several of Africa's very rich have themselves set up foundations and South Africa's patrice motsepe has made a similar pledge to that of the Americans. But is philanthropy the same as charity? Can it be used to transform society rather than reinforce the status quo? Dr Shauna Mottiar (pictured, inset) discusses this increasingly important topic.

IN JANUARY THIS YEAR, SOUTH AFRICAN mining mogul and billionaire Patrice Motsepe announced that he would be giving away half his fortune (estimated at $2.65bn) to the Motsepe Foundation.

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The Foundation is committed to improving the lives of the poor, unemployed and marginalised by collaborating with NGOs, community-based organisations, churches and government. The gesture seems to have been inspired both by the Gates and Buffett 'Giving Pledge' (encouraging billionaires to give away their fortunes) and by the 'spirit of Ubuntu'.

South African newspapers were quick to publicise this national triumph. The Daily Maverick said he was the first African to pledge away half his fortune and asked how many more would follow in his footsteps. The Mail & Guardian stated "Motsepe has signalled a major realignment in the landscape of South African philanthropy".

The African National Congress applauded the pledge stating, "We believe that this gesture of philanthropy will assist many destitute South Africans to experience some relief that complements government's initiatives ... to mitigate poverty and indigence". Inyathelo, a local philanthropic movement, has also welcomed the pledge contending that it represents a "major breakthrough for personal philanthropy in South Africa".

What is interesting about responses to Motsepe's announcement is the way the term 'philanthropy' is used interchangeably with the term 'charity', the vague manner in which it is described as a way to 'mitigate poverty' and the contention that it signals a 'breakthrough'.

Philanthropy or charity?

Over 100 years ago, Jane Adams, writing in the North American Review, argued that trends in giving were dominated by two distinct schools: the 'charitable' and the 'radical'.

The 'charitable' were motivated by a 'pity for the poor' while the 'radical' were motivated by a 'hatred of injustice'. So the former acts in the negative 'relieving destitution' while the latter acts in the positive 'raising life to its highest value'.

Adams illustrated this distinction with an example of the 1803 British Society for Superseding the Necessity of Climbing Boys, set up to protect boy chimney sweeps by "some kind-hearted people whose names have not been preserved". The Society offered a prize of 6200 for the best sweeping machine invention that would obviate the need for boys who swept chimneys. It then promoted a Bill to protect boys who swept chimneys - the Bill was passed by the British House of Commons but rejected by the House of Lords.

The Society appointed its own private inspectors to monitor the...

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