Viva, Patrice Motsepe, for your gesture of generosity

2013-02-03 10:00

The true value of the announcement by billionaire businessman Patrice Motsepe and his wife, Dr Precious Motsepe, that he will donate half the income from his family assets to the development of our people goes far beyond the money.

It is affirmation, in difficult times, that the widening chasm between rich and poor South Africans can be bridged. It is a sign of hope and promise, those most precious commodities, because human beings do not live by bread alone.

It is an act of graciousness from someone who acquired the bulk of his wealth in the troubled mining sector.

It is setting an example for others to follow.

If you will excuse the ramblings of a retired priest, there are just a few thoughts I would like to raise.

Firstly, I wish to commend the Motsepes for making their philanthropic decision public knowledge.

There are many South African individuals and institutions that privately donate large parts of their fortunes toward societal development projects. It is good for our collective soul to know of these transactions, because they are a demonstration of our collective humanity.

The Motsepes have placed the issue of philanthropy squarely in the public discourse. They are being spoken of in the same breath as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, icons of world philanthropy.

However, the counterpoint is that the Motsepes’ public act of generosity exposes the fact that there is enormous room for improvement in South Africans’ approach to philanthropy. Of course, very few of us have been as successful as the Motsepes at acquiring wealth.

But it is not so much about how much you give as about the gesture of giving. Too few of those who have enough to share are willing to do so. This is a critical contributor to the wealth gap, and, I believe, the general fault line in our psyche– that government alone is responsible for balancing apartheid’s imbalances.

A year or two ago, speaking at Stellenbosch University, I suggested that what South Africa urgently needed was a form of wealth tax. This would create a new pool of resources to narrow the wealth gap and, equally importantly for our hearts and minds, a platform for wealthy South Africans to demonstrate magnanimity.

I pointed to the willingness to forgive of survivors of extreme cruelty who appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, most of whom were dirt poor. There had been very little in the way of a collective reciprocal gesture from those who had materially benefited from the apartheid system.

I said – getting into trouble for pointing out the obvious – that the majority of witnesses at the TRC were black, while the majority of those who had attended good schools and lived in decent homes in the past were white.

But race is not the issue, resources and magnanimity are!

The fact is that too many South Africans continue to live in squalor. Too many babies continue to die from preventable diseases. Too many children go to school in the morning without proper nourishment.

Too many adults who should be breadwinners are unemployed. Too many South Africans are desperate and degraded, waiting for government to deliver the fruits of freedom while being exposed to a daily diet of allegations of corruption and maladministration.

The Motsepes’ gesture speaks to that desperation. They did not grow up in the best part of town or attend the swankiest schools. But they have enough to share. As African children, they know that it is right, because we are dependent on one another for our own, as well as our country’s, wellbeing and success.

Viva the Motsepes, viva!

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