Philanthropy in South Africa

Philanthropy in South Africa

Dominant narratives of philanthropy often portray Africans as mere recipients of aid, usually from well endowed, Western almoners – the West distributing charity to impecunious Africans.  Do you agree?

Recently I attended the book launch for ‘Philanthropy in South Africa, Horizontality, Ubuntu and Social Justice’ by Shauna Mottiar and Mvu Ngcoya.

The contributors to this volume turn this argument on its head and ask: what about the beneficent spirit of multitudes of Africans whose acts of generosity sustain millions of their compatriots?  This volume is unique in that it illuminates research on philanthropy in Africa by using case studies and ethnographic material to examine a number of themes: cycles of reciprocity among black professionals, social justice philanthropy, community foundations, ubuntu and giving in township and rural settings. Leading thinkers on normative aspects of philanthropy in Africa also critically explore the theories, perspectives and research on philanthropy.  (Taken from the back leaf of the book)

So what does that mean:
Horizontal philanthropy is a process in which people who are poor mobilize and share resources among themselves. Its transactions provide types of mutual support, but can also act as investment to improve conditions and future prospects. (

I have not read the book yet so cannot comment on its content but I was intrigued so read up more and in these investigations I found references to some of these practices which are often hidden.  Do you know about any of these?

Ukwenana is a cultural form of exchange where the recipient will accept intending to return or reciprocate in kind but the giver will engage in the action knowing that there may not, in fact, be reciprocation.

In ukusisa, the givers will hand over part of their property, perhaps cattle, to recipients who do not own livestock. The cattle will eventually be returned but its offspring will become the property of the recipient.

In ilimo the recipients will initiate the giving action by providing food and drink and inviting givers to help plough or harvest their lands with the understanding that the action will be reciprocated. These practices are grounded in the philosophy of Ubuntu, or a common humanity – ‘my humanity is tainted if your humanity is not recognised and assisted when in need’.

I look forward to reading the book and discovering more about this topic.

To read an article by Shauna go to:

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