In our view

African philanthropy is not about alms, but the fair distribution of resources - 09 Oct 2013 - Cape Times

bhekiThis opinion piece by Bhekinkosi Moyo was published in the Cape Times (second edition) on 09 October 2013

SOUTH Africa, and indeed Africa as a continent, is undergoing many structural transformations, partly inspired by demands for equity, equality and social cohesion. In this process, African philanthropy continues to play a central and very important role in the lives of Africans.

The primary function of philanthropy in any given society is to provide love for humanity If it fails in its primary role, then philanthropy becomes obsolete. In other words, philanthropy cannot exist harmoniously with inequality, poverty, social injustices, war and other destructive elements found across the world.

Where such injustices exist, philanthropy's role is to eliminate them. This is because I define philanthropy as encompassing notions of mutuality solidarity, reciprocity and synergetic relations. In most of Africa, philanthropy is a daily experience, and more importantly, African philanthropy is a response to various socioeconomic and political problems.

In other words, philanthropic resources are mobilised in response to these problems in Africa, whereas elsewhere resources (particularly financial capital) are mobilised first and the problems that need to be tackled are identified later. This is an important point, because it marks a specific nuance and distinction between African philanthropy and other forms of philanthropy that exist globally African philanthropy is more than a financial transaction - whether related to giving, grantmaking, or the recent obsession with venture philanthropy Put simply, African philanthropy is interchangeably used to mean African resources - be they human, natural, political, cultural, social, economic or political.

Defining philanthropy in this way creates possibilities for the many roles that it can play in a social contract for Africa. This is precisely because the notion of a social contract implies a particular form of agreement that members of a society enter into in order to delineate rights and responsibilities of each at various levels for example, the governed and governors, or at the level of an organised society where the primary goal is mutual protection and welfare.

A social contract therefore entails a mutual benefit between an individual, or a group or community as a whole, including the government. Increasingly, philanthropy is being thrust into debates about developmental governance and the resolution of social injustices. But few seem to recognise that there has always been a clear relationship between social justice and the objectives of philanthropy, or that philanthropy and social justice have always been intertwined. There can be no solidarity in a world full of inequalities - and no dignity for all.

Philanthropy can change this. It can help to foster a more socially just equilibrium in Africa because philanthropy is at the very centre of the continent's political economy The very definition of philanthropy in Africa is not complete if it does not include the political economy of the continent's development. In other words, if philanthropy does not contribute to better governance of resources and institutions for the benefit of the common good, then philanthropy is rendered irrelevant.

Societies cannot be just and equitable unless there are sound governance systems that can promote and sustain such equilibrium. In the African context, people's livelihoods depend primarily on the continent's resources. Africa is very rich underground and very poor above the ground - not because there is a lack of wealth, but because there is a lack of sound governance of those critical resources. So far, only a few well-connected political and economic elites have benefited from the vast natural wealth of the continent.

Philanthropy has a key role to play in ensuring that African people actively participate in the governance of their resources for the betterment and long-term sustainability of their societies, thereby underscoring the point that resources are a common good to be governed according to the rules of a social contract.

African philanthropy will therefore be irrelevant if it is not at the centre of the mobilisation and governance of resources, including oil, gas, minerals, timber, water and land - especially as so many of the continent's richest philanthropists have made their money from these very resources.

Philanthropy must play a bigger role than merely doling out charity It needs to be at the heart of the political economy of Africa, because only then can it help to transform society and achieve its ultimate goal - to provide love and dignity for humanity - the common good as envisaged in social contracts.

Dr Mayo is the Deputy Executive Director of the Southern Africa Trust and Secretary of the African Grantmakers Network. African philanthropists have been invited to attend the annual Inyathelo Leadership Retreat from November 4 to 6.