In our view

Shelagh Gastrow Speech: Inyathelo Philanthropy Awards 2012

I would like to welcome everyone here to the 2012 Inyathelo Philanthropy Awards.  This year is unique in that we are holding this ceremony in Johannesburg for the first time so that it can co-incide with the African Grantmakers’ Network assembly which is taking place this week.  Therefore a very special welcome to all those present who have travelled from across the continent and further afield to join us in Johannesburg.

Inyathelo is actively involved in promoting the growth of philanthropic giving in this country.  The organisation was established 10 years ago, with the vision of a vibrant democracy in SA with a robust and sustainable civil society and institutions, supported by a strong local philanthropic movement.  Tonight we celebrate the people who deserve to be honoured because they are, each in their own way, doing what they can to change the face of our country. 

The people we honour tonight have generally given their time, knowledge and skills to the causes they support so passionately.  However, these Awards differ from many others in that they specifically focus on people who have given of their private assets, such as money, land or buildings, towards social change.  The selection panel therefore had to ensure that together with their particular energy, awardees also made a personal financial contribution.

We currently find ourselves in a situation of great uncertainty in South Africa.  This uncertainty has a lot to do with a lack of leadership and a failure of leadership.  The social contract between citizens and government and citizens and the market has broken down.  The Occupy Wall Street movement is an example of how citizens have lost trust in the market to solve problems in the world and the uprisings in the middle east show us what happens when citizens lose confidence in government.  Marikana and the miners’ strike are a good example of both.

A great example of the breakdown of trust by citizens in our institutions and political leadership is the recent debacle regarding the Traditional Courts Bill.  There has been massive resistance in civil society, particularly in the rural areas, to this bill.  Twenty one organisations made submissions to the National Council of Province’s Select Committee on Security and Constitutional Development and one government department.  The voices of civil society were rudely silenced by the Chair of the Select Committee who not only threw them out, but then invited the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to write and present its summary of the public hearings in September to  parliament.   The report only referred to two of the many submissions.  Our so-called leaders seem to have no concern about breaking the rules and violating the separation of powers outlined in our constitution.  In fact, it appears that efforts to undermine the constitution and the courts are being actively pursued.  The Chair of the Select Committee stated that he had instructed the Department to disregard  the twenty of the twenty-two submissions (which were made by civil society) as irrelevant despite the fact that many rural people had travelled far to parliament to make the submissions.

What the Occupy Wall Street and the uprisings in Arab countries have shown is that the so-called third sector, civil society, is in reality the base of all power and people will organise themselves to ensure their own survival.    It is civil society that picks up the pieces of our broken society and it continues to play a critical role in building social cohesion and social capital in our communities.  Besides the family, civil society is the real glue that keeps communities together and often more formalised organisations are on the frontline of defending our rights, providing policy input and undertaking research that feeds into advocacy in a range of areas.  They also play a fundamental role in providing the necessary checks and balances on the operations of state and business.

In the next few weeks we, in South Africa, will be facing a crisis of leadership when the governing party in the country makes a decision whether it will continue with existing leadership or whether there will be a change.  However, for many, a change really means no change.    A vacuum in leadership leads to a breakdown of the rules of society and we are now seeing this in South Africa in the form of xenophobia, mob justice, illegal strikes and rampant corruption.  It therefore becomes increasingly imperative that social cohesion and social capital continue to be sustained within communities; that our civil society organisations function whether they are undertaking work that government should be doing to presenting innovative alternatives to a system that is in decline.

We keep meeting individuals saying that they would like to do something, but do not know how to do it, or where to go.  The personal, voluntary financial contributions of individual people can help society to rebuild its social fabric.  These Awards will show how this is possible.  That to be a philanthropist, you can come from a very modest background and that human energy can change society and its systems, making a difference in the lives of people.  The awardees that you will meet tonight will force many of us to review our own contributions – they are an amazing group of role models who have shown that their philanthropic efforts can reap rewards and that there are many different ways of doing this.

We are also delighted this year to have aligned the Inyathelo Awards with the African Grantmakers’ Network assembly.  This has provided the opportunity for the AGN to offer the first Award for African Philanthropy which will be part of the proceedings this evening.

When we started Inyathelo, we were often criticised for using the word philanthropy which was seen as elitist and paternalistic.  However, we couldn’t find an alternative and we decided to go ahead and give the word currency.  We believe we have achieved this.  However, it is important to understand that we are not merely trying to copy philanthropic practice in the USA or Europe, but you will see from the awards tonight a unique brand of world class African philanthropy that is home grown.   It is essential that our practice is rooted in our own continent and context and, in advance, I would like to congratulate the amazing role models who will be recognised tonight.

Thanks :

Sincere thanks to

  • Our Awards Programme supporters for this year  : the Kresge Foundation and the African Grantmakers Network
  • Our other key donors who enable us to do our work :
    • The CS Mott Foundation
    • AngloAmerican Chairmans Fund
    • The FirstRand Foundation
    • The Raith Foundation
    • The Atlantic Philanthropies
    • Jonathan and Jennifer Oppenheimer
    • The RB Haggart Trust
    • The David and Lisa Issroff Foundation
    • The Stella and Paul Loewenstein Charitable Trust
    • Mr Gerald Phillips
  • Mark Solms and Richard Astor, previous awardees, who kindly donated the winefrom the Solms Delta Estate.
  • The Inyathelo team who pulled this together, particularly Alfred Thutloa and Veronique Adonis
  • The event organiser, Justine Gevisser

Please enjoy the evening.  Thank you.