A country of givers

2008-05-06 00:00

MOST South Africans dig deep into their pockets and hearts to help those in need. And it’s not just the wealthy who do so. A national survey conducted by researchers David Everatt and Geetesh Solanki suggests that giving — which includes money, time and resources — is “ingrained” in South Africans, rich and poor alike. And in many cases, it’s the poor who give more than the wealthy.

The results of the research appear as a chapter in Giving and Solidarity, a meaty volume published by the HSRC Press and recently launched at the Centre for Civil Society (CCS) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Edited by political analyst Adam Habib and local academic Brij Maharaj, the book is a compilation of papers drawn up by a range of experts to counter the “dearth of academic literature” on the issue of philanthropy or giving in South Africa.

At its height, the project (jointly initiated by the CCS, National Development Agency and the Southern African Grantmakers’ Association), involved five research teams comprising 30 researchers.

Together, the papers provide the first comprehensive “excavation” of the patterns of giving and the many ways in which philanthropy is exercised by private individuals and organisations.

Conceived in 2004, when South Africa was celebrating 10 years of freedom, the book shifts the traditional focus of poverty alleviation discourse away from state towards the contributions by religious bodies (faith-based philanthropy is the single largest component of South African giving), corporate actors, foreign governments, multi-lateral institutions and foreign private foundations, private individuals and poor and marginalised communities.

According to CSS programme manager Ansilla Nyar, one of the main implications of the book is confirmation that South Africa, despite the fact that up to 55% of its population live in poverty, is a “generous society” and that the country’s social fabric is alive and well.

“It’s important to remember this, particularly in the context of some of the negativity currently in South Africa,” said Nyar. “Ordinary individuals from all walks of life are contributing to the moral fabric and are being socially responsive.”

But, said Nyar, none of this absolves us from asking why there is so much need in South Africa. “What kind of society do we need to build in order to reduce the need and how can we best take advantage of the collective generosity of South Africans without legitimising the state’s withdrawal from aspects of social support?” she asked.

Nyar said South Africans need to be less “suspicious” of philanthropy, which, in the developing world in particular, has connotations of elitism and paternalism. “Philanthropy can be a liberating force; it can facilitate the taking of risks and investment in cutting-edge research initiatives,” she said at the launch.

But there are also different kinds of philanthropy. “Often, we use the term in a blanket way, but not all giving is altruistic; neither is it transformative and few initiatives advocate major policy reform. I’m not saying there’s no room for simple charity, but we also need longer-term solutions to poverty. If it is to make a difference, philanthropy needs to be strategic,” said Nyar.

In different ways, many of the book’s chapters make the point that giving is not necessarily about quantity or volume. A chapter on foreign donor aid since 1994 by Durban consultant Deborah Ewing and Gauteng researcher Thulani Guliwe shows that while the rhetoric that surrounds international giving makes it sound significant, in reality, foreign aid is a very small proportion of the national budget and would certainly make no impact on government programmes if withdrawn.

How aid is used and for whose benefit is a far more important question, says Ewing. Citing 2005 research by Action Aid, Ewing said at the launch that corruption aside, 61% of official aid was “phantom”, with only about 40% reaching its intended beneficiaries. The balance was benefiting consultants, foreign companies or was being lost on excessive bureaucracy.

Giving habits — results at a glance

The survey by David Everatt and Geetesh Solanki, which forms the kernel around which Giving and Solidarity is organised, was conducted in late 2003 among 3 000 South Africans from all walks of life over the age of 18.

Respondents were asked about their giving habits in the month preceding their interview. All forms of giving, both formal and informal, were taken into account. Even giving a sandwich to a street child was taken into consideration.

Who gives?

• 93% of respondents gave time, money or goods to a cause or individual. Most were more

comfortable giving to formal structures than directly to the poor.

• Differences across demographic categories are slender. Indians were the most active givers at 96%, Africans at 94%, coloureds at 90% and whites at 89%.

• Poor and non-poor were equally likely to have given.

How much?

• South Africans give an average of R27 to organisations and R6,60 directly to the poor each month. If this is extrapolated according to census 2001 figures, South Africans give R921 million each month to social causes.

• On average, each South African volunteers 1,9 hours a month to charities and organisations.

• Poorer people gave less money and more time.

• Poorer provinces have higher levels of volunteering, but wealthy provinces are not necessarily those giving the most money. Gauteng respondents, for example, gave less money and time than respondents in the poorer Eastern Cape.

To whom?

• Respondents identified deserving causes as children/youth (22%), HIV/Aids (21%) and the poor (20%). Smaller categories were the disabled (eight percent) and the elderly (five percent).

• Across races, children and the youth were cited as most deserving by 33% of coloured respondents, 30% of Indian, 22% of African and 19% of white respondents. HIV/Aids was cited by 11% of Indians, 14% whites, 18% coloured and 23% African. The poor were cited by 25% Indians, 22% Africans, 17% white and 13% coloured.

• Animal welfare was cited by eight percent of whites and two percent of coloureds, but not by Indians or Africans.

• 65% of respondents regarded domestic as more deserving than international causes.

Why do they give?

• Ninety-three percent of respondents (95% African, 90% Indian and coloured and 77% white) said that helping the poor was an important part of building the new South Africa.

• 57% were motivated into giving by apocalyptic assessments of the future (i.e. If we don’t help the poor now, we might lose everything later). This view was strongest among African respondents.

• 61% disagreed with the statement that “it is government’s responsibility to help the poor, not mine”.

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