How to spread it: Giving back is trendy again

2014-08-11 18:45

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With her honeyed mix of Afro-jazz and R&B, Lira is one of South Africa’s most successful musicians.

The title track of her 2003 debut album All My Love became one of the country’s most frequently played singles and, since then, Lira has produced three more multiplatinum-selling albums, graced the covers of local and international magazines, collected nine SA Music Awards and delighted audiences across the globe.

Despite her incredible success, Lira still believes in the essential concept of ubuntu and caring for the collective. Africa, she says, is inspiring the world.

In 2010, you were part of the 92nd birthday celebration of former president Nelson Mandela. Telecast in 3-D directly to Mandela himself, your performance with the Soweto Spiritual Singers of Something Inside So Strong was one of the most soulful in your career. How do you reflect on that now, and the legacy that Mandela left?

The more I perform this song, the more I understand why Nelson Mandela liked it so much. I see how it connects us as human beings: my audience, my band and myself. I have clarity on just how awesome the human spirit is.

I recognise my own ability to positively influence people through what I do and the fact that they positively influence me as well. I see greatness within all of us, the same that we have admired in Mandela.

I realise that he was a man doing his best to uphold what he felt to be true, and I see that we too, in our daily efforts, can and are doing the same.

In May 2012, you appeared in Vogue’s Rebranding Africa issue featuring UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon on the cover. You said then: ‘We’re a young democracy, and we’re accustomed to an image of Africa as a place that expects outside help. We must instead take stock of our situation, become autonomous; find our identity and independence.’ Do you think the global image of Africa is changing?

Yes! It absolutely is. I see it in our fashion and music industries. The world is looking to Africa for inspiration. These are exciting times. Though we still have much to do, much progress has been made. We are producing amazing Africans who are impacting the world and lifting the image of Africa.

Is there a new way of giving back among successful Africans? How do we create a culture of giving?

I can answer that question from a personal perspective. Education makes sense to me as a long-term solution to creating change and alleviating poverty.

Charity sometimes addresses symptoms rather than the core issues, although it is necessary to provide relief. Giving back goes back to the principle of ubuntu. We were always community or groupcentric people.

It is important that when we manage to elevate our own lives, we go back into the areas we came from and find people we can help so that there are more of us being elevated.

This will inevitably lift the whole country and ultimately the continent. We can only achieve this if we work together. The trick is to consider what you can do with what you have.

This is what I’m doing with the Change4ever campaign. We are making ‘giving back’ trendy again, and encouraging people to find unique and creative ways to make a difference in their communities.

What is your most inspiring philanthropic project?

The Student Sponsorship Programme is one of my favourites. It finds promising and gifted students in disadvantaged communities, and sponsors their education in private institutions across the world.

Each youngster is assigned a mentor who is often a graduate from the programme. I absolutely love it.

What musicians inspire you in the ways they give back?

Yvonne Chaka Chaka does a lot of charity work, which sees her travelling the world and speaking on global platforms about malaria. Bonang Matheba recently publicised her online store, which she uses to sell her used glamorous dresses for charity.

I do most of my giving privately, but this made me realise that, if our mission is to make giving trendy, sometimes it is necessary to publicise and show others how to do it.

What is your message from Africa to the world?

I was asked recently by an interviewer in America: ‘What do you think Africa can teach the world?’

My answer was that we have not invented architecture, fancy machinery or advanced weapons, but we remind the world of the virtues that connect us as human beings, virtues such as humility, humanity and love.

» This series is developed in partnership with the Southern Africa Trust

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