Motsepe’s ubuntu in action sits well

2013-02-03 10:00

Patrice Motsepe’s decision to give half of his family’s great income to a foundation that will distribute it to deserving charitable organisations is a game changer.

It is a positive contribution to the image of the much-maligned and deeply flawed programme of black economic empowerment and the now doubted virtues of the free market system.

In keeping with custom, the decision has been met with some cynicism and sceptics have speculated on all sorts of motives for Motsepe’s gesture.

Regardless of his motivation, it is exemplary, no matter the size of one’s wealth, to practically play one’s role in creating a better life for all.

Some have suggested that his act challenges the wealthy – particularly the black wealthy, many of whom are beneficiaries of the post-1994 reforms – to also contribute more.

The challenge should not be that narrowly defined. Motsepe’s generous gesture challenges all of us. Former American president Theodore Roosevelt’s injunction to his people to “do what you can, with what you have, where you are” comes to mind. Far too often, we wait for the next big job, the big pay rise, the next big contract or tender to do good for our less fortunate neighbour.

We have also made being charitable someone else’s business when it should be everyone’s concern. It is therefore honourable that Motsepe’s foundations are not about merely doling out money to assuage capitalism or BEE’s ­­well-documented sins.

It is big business and an individual family making their contribution to concepts that we as a country casually refer to but never really internalise, such as “ubuntu”.

Motsepe’s is therefore an example to the state and all of us. The state has the habit of using phrases that appeal to the heart but do not live up to the ideals they set themselves.

For example, our foreign policy blueprint is titled Building a Better World: The Diplomacy of Ubuntu. Despite this, when push comes to shove, trade interests trump the “diplomacy of ubuntu” each time. Our presence in the Central African Republic in defence of a dyed-in-the-wool dictatorial regime can hardly be called an act of ubuntu.

There is also the state concept of Batho Pele – People First. Yet the state has no qualms with unilaterally redrawing municipal boundaries or allowing for children to crowd dilapidated schools with few teachers.

This will go down as the best way that the Motsepe family has ever spent its money.

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