Do you ever give donations to charitable organisations; orphanages, places of worship, animal sanctuaries, community safety organisations, education initiatives, anti-corruption groups – that kind of thing?If you do, then you make up a small but vital part of the pool of over 80% of South Africans who give generously in support of these critical efforts. I say without fear of contradiction that this country would be in dire straits if it weren’t for our NGO’s. We have literally tens of thousands of non-profit organisations doing truly superb work with very little support except that which you and I (or our companies) might give to them. My wife and I have run an NGO for many years now. We start and administer homes for abandoned and orphaned babies and we have teams who work for us. Some of these homes now operate under the auspices of their own NGO’s, which is brilliant. Others – like the Baby Home in Durban North, Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Hammarsdale Child Care Centre run under our NGO. All our advocacy work and other projects involves orphans and vulnerable children along with the creation of the kind of South Africa we all wish to live in. We are a very small NGO in the bigger picture, but last time I checked it cost us about R140k a month to operate. This is mostly taken up by rent and salaries (carers, house-parents and management – i.e. us. We employ 13 people in total). We are scrupulously honest, even going to the extent of publishing our annual report and financials on our website. However, many very generous people and organisations are unwilling to give monetary donations preferring to donate consumables; nappies, formula, medicines etc. Some like to give hardware – cots, blankets, clothes. Others like to dump their old rubbish on us but that’s for another time. Now, please don’t get me wrong. We are hugely grateful for all the (non-manky) consumables and hardware we get given. We depend on this. But we also – like every other NGO in operation – rely on money to operate. We must pay a qualified person to mix that formula up and feed it to a baby, change her nappy and lull her to sleep. It doesn’t just happen. And we choose to pay our carers and house mothers above the going rate. It is a priority of our NGO to pay poverty-busting salaries and give 13th cheques and significant increases. How else will we play our part in addressing inequality? And this brings me to my final point. NGO staff and management should ultimately be paid according to their education and years of experience – not according to the fact that they work in a non-profit organisation. NGO employees should be paid like their counterparts in for-profit companies. Yes, we are very passionate – but passion does not pay the rent. Now, we acknowledge that we cannot pay these kinds of salaries because we do not have a culture of deep respect for NGO’s that allows this to happen. For my part I have always relied on multiple sources of income for me and my family. All this humble NGOér requests is that you put aside past experiences where your generosity may have been abused and know that NGO’s need hard cash donations to survive. Our promise is that we will steward those funds wisely and carefully and we will always be accountable to you the donor. Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. His writing is dedicated to the memory of Anene Booysens, Emmanuel Josias Sithole and Suna Venter
During the 16th Nelson Mandela lecture, former US President Barack Obama humbly and vulnerably took issue with a side of humanity that few are ever brave enough to; the side that says that more is always better. He said: “Right now, I am actually surprised by how much money I got…There’s only so much you can eat. There’s only so big a house you can have. There’s only so many nice trips you can take. I mean, it’s enough.”
The questions we might ask when presented with this thinking is, what is a former US President’s definition of enough? What is my enough? What is your enough? But by asking such questions we lose ourselves in ‘for instances’ and ‘hypotheticals’ and we miss the essence of what he is suggesting; that inequality is – at least to some degree – in our hands to fix. He is basically suggesting that as long as one of our number is in lack whilst I am not, then I have more than enough.
Of course, in our capitalist world where ‘more’ is the only game in town, this thinking is naïve. It sounds like charity speak. But that is where we have gone wrong; we have commoditized giving. We have turned what should be a normal everyday human response to inequality into a system of points, rewards and tax breaks.
But President Obama is asking us to look at inequality differently, perhaps a little more like my child who looks at the beggar on the street and says: “Give that man our money – we have enough!”
How do we do this well? It begins with a shift in mindset: What can I go without, so people can have what they need to survive? This may be a physical thing like a meal or a movie or some new clothes, or it may be less tangible like a degree of financial security or the size of my savings account. Having begun to think this way then we begin to free ourselves of the constraints of our own poverty mentality. We can then think about doing some of these things:
- Enjoy the fact that our tax goes in large part to feeding the poor. We can pay it thankfully and think or pray for those who have less.
- We can become radical tippers. I loved the story of the Brit who was so impressed by having his petrol pumped by an attendant that he tipped 10% of the value of the full tank of fuel. We can make 15% – 20% restaurant tips the norm. R10 minimum for car guards and bag packers in supermarkets.
- R20 an hour is not a living wage. We can pay R30+ an hour which is okay but still not great.
- We can employ more people – especially women – than we necessarily need. We won’t do work that someone else can do for us and be paid for.
- We can help our domestics, our gardeners with educating their children, maybe by arranging that they attend a better school, and maybe by assisting with the fees.
Does all this sound naïve? It may do – but the alternative is not: The alternative is a society slowly but surely torn apart by inequality.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
His writing is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered and Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.