The fame and fortunes of philanthropy

2011-02-12 08:34

They are used to singing for their proverbial supper, and now musicians have taken on singing for causes.

It’s in vogue to be a musician with a conscience, the one who goes beyond caring and actually knuckles down to make a real difference in people’s lives – or at least is seen to be making a real difference.

But what really happens when the crowds leave the concert and the bright lights are switched off?

Lately South African musicians are determined to do more than pose for pictures with the impoverished while big corporations get the pat on the back.

They are beginning to join their international counterparts in rewriting history by doing things for others – from picking up poor African babies for adoption, to venturing into the political terrain of Darfur and South Sudan.

It’s not only about a photo opportunity with children in a leukaemia ward or kissing abandoned babies at Othandweni Home in Soweto any more. Now it’s about green issues, tackling crime and poverty alleviation.

In the US, George Clooney speaks in front of the UN General Assembly about Darfur while Sean Penn has all but put his career on hold to set up shelters in Haiti.

One of the most visible local celebrity charity work comes from musician Doc Shebeleza’s Amaha, which builds houses for the poor.

Last year, celebrities also came together to form Shout SA, an anti-crime initiative.

According to the organisation’s Gavin Koppel: “South Africans invented ubuntu.

It’s part of our culture and part of the history of Africans.

We became aware of our need to be aware of the plight of others by the deeds of people like Bishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela.

The sharing of food, fire and shelter was not instilled by us by the missionaries. Africans have a good sense of charity, warmth and generosity.”

Spearheaded by Koppel’s musician son, Danny K, and kwaito star Kabelo Mabalane, the musicians have called on their contemporaries to fight crime through song.

They released a music CD called Shout featuring artists like the Parlotones’ Kahn Morbee, Freshlyground and Lira, among others.

The CD went on to sell more than 65 000 copies to date and clocked the same amount of downloads.

Koppel says that so far Shout has raised R1.5 million, 40% of which has already been donated to worthy causes.

But as the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished. This has proved to be the case for many of these celebrity philanthropists, most notably Wyclef Jean and Bono.

Last year, Haiti-born Jean was in the firing line after allegations surfaced over the mismanagement of funds at his Yele charity.

The charity raised more than $2 million (R14.5 million) after the earthquake through text messages, but the bulk of the money was shown to have been used to pay salaries and buy air time on a Haitian television channel owned by Jean and his business partner.

Bono, the frontman of rock band U2, came under fire after it was revealed by the New York Daily Post last year that his anti-poverty foundation, ONE Campaign, gives only 1% of its funds to charity. The non-profit organisation was set up by the 50-year-old in 2002, and received almost $15 million in donations in 2008. However, the newspaper reports that only $190 000 of that figure was donated.

The findings were reported after boxes stuffed with Starbucks coffee, leather notebooks, $20 water bottles, band-aids, pens and cookies were sent to New York reporters during a recent PR campaign, which was meant to coincide with US President Barack Obama’s advocacy for Aids funding for Africa, the paper said.

Oliver Buston, a spokesperson for the organisation, defended the way in which the operation was run.

Alluding to the fact that money was often used for promoting the cause, he told the Post: “We don’t provide programmes on the ground. We’re an advocacy and campaigning organisation.”

The sentiment is shared by Koppel regarding Shout.

“Shout is not an elitist thing. We go to communities to spread the word of morality and we dare not leave a child behind. It’s a movement to create a safer and better South Africa,” he says.

Koppel also adds that Shout has gathered enough support in social media networks, with 153 000 people joining on their Facebook page, making it one of the largest groups in the country.

Plans are under way to record Shout 2, which is going to be a different song aimed at raising more money for worthy causes. There will also be Shout merchandise for sale in stores.

What started out with Sir Bob Geldoff’s Live Aid 1985 concert featuring the cream of the music industry has spawned other big charity concerts such as Nelson Mandela’s 46664, USA for Africa and the Live Earth concerts.

They are all noble efforts, some making visible differences while others disappear as soon as the artificial smoke blows away.

But the philanthropic work does not go unnoticed.

In the case of Bono, he has in recent years been nominated for the Nobel peace prize, granted an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II, and named Person of the Year by Time Magazine.

U2 have been involved in many issues over the years, supporting Greenpeace, War Child and Amnesty International. Most recently, Bono has worked with Jubilee Plus to erase Third World debt.

Let’s hope more celebrities jump on the bandwagon, not just to enrich themselves, but to make a real difference in the lives of those who are in need.

– Additional reporting by Babalwa Shota 

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