INDIGENOUS African sayings and culture are not always easy to translate. Storytelling for example is a widely documented means of knowledge being transferred across generations. These stories were always meant to convey a deeper message, to cultivate values of honesty, integrity and humility.
It was about fostering a sense of relational harmony, of caring for your fellow human beings. The powerful isiZulu saying "izandla ziyagezana", meaning "one good turn deserves another", is what comes to mind when I read about self-made billionaire Patrice Motsepe's pledge to donate half the money generated by his family assets to marginalised communities.
There are a number of trusts and foundations that support social development in South Africa, as well as individual philanthropists who choose to give away their money to good causes. However, these individuals and institutions mostly operate under the radar. If we want to encourage a culture of giving, they need to be more public about their giving, and we also need to set up the institutions that allow us to give well into the future.
The word "ubuntu" is often used to describe the South African culture of sharing and being part of a larger symbiotic and harmonious society. However, the reality is that we remain the most unequal society in the world. The Gini coefficient measuring the gap between rich and poor shows that this disparity is not just between white and black. There are, in fact, huge structural inequalities within the African communities as well.
There is a growing black elite in South Africa. Among this elite, most are firstgeneration millionaires. Many have gone back and helped the communities they came from. Not only do we need to encourage them to be more public about their giving, we need to look at ways of ensuring that their contributions encourage systemic and sustainable change.
One of the challenges I have noted about Africans giving to other Africans, is the belief that it is crass to talk about money. This notion means that those who are giving are even more discouraged to publicly discuss who they have given their money to and how much they have given. If we want to encourage others to become involved and give, we have to get over this.
We have reached a critical point in terms of how we support and sustain our social and economic development. We can no longer rely on international donor money to fund our charities and civil society organisations who are often the only service providers in their communities. International funding is drying up fast. We need to grow local philanthropy to protect the future of the organisations and institutions that form the backbone of our democracy.
The announcement by the Motsepes is pleasing as it shows their dedication to social development and improving the lives of the most vulnerable. Foundations allow philanthropists to structure their giving and to continue giving after they have passed away.
Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles confronting the growth of philanthropic foundations in South Africa is our tax legislation. At the moment, there is little tax benefit for those who donate money to a foundation or trust. Creating a more enabling tax environment would encourage philanthropists to institutionalise their giving and allow their gifts to grow and give in perpetuity.
Inyathelo: The South African Institute for Advancement is the secretariat to the Private Philanthropy Circle which consists of 42 members who run trusts and foundations with an annual spend of more than R500 million. This group has been engaging with Sars around improving the tax environment to encourage the formation of foundations and endowments.
I can remember my grandmother telling stories and how these stories became my parents' stories, often warmed up for more charm. These were the tales I grew up with, about caring, humility and most importantly, a love for humankind. In whatever language or culture, philanthropy is our way of saying "I am because we are."
Thutloa is philanthropy programme co-ordinator at Inyathelo: The South African Institute of Advancement, which is dedicated to building a sustainable South African civil society.