Lorenzo Davids writes that if politicians and corporations do not recognise that the political ground zero is every informal settlement and township, they are both missing the policy and investment direction to grow our future prosperity. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency
Lorenzo Davids writes that if politicians and corporations do not recognise that the political ground zero is every informal settlement and township, they are both missing the policy and investment direction to grow our future prosperity. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency

Another Voice: Charity is not justice, only justice is justice

By Lorenzo A Davids Time of article published Aug 31, 2021

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About last week. Charity is not justice. Charity cannot be used as a replacement for justice. Charity cannot be used to fix injustice. Only justice is justice – and only justice can fix injustice.

The biggest culprits in the perpetuation of the multiple “charity is justice” narratives are corporations worldwide that prefer to link their corporate social investment to brand enhancement and procurement strategies instead of justice.

They prefer a set of mediocre non-disruptive actions instead of defining a robust justice narrative for their CSI practices.

Within this endeavour, they send their staff troops off to visit, work and converse with suffering people and communities and then invest in the work of charitable entities.

Most of the current CSI efforts end up as investments in maintaining racial inequalities and the perpetuation of injustices. Instead of making a statement about the unacceptability of the injustices they observe, it congratulates poor people for enduring suffering and “being resilient”.

The turmoil at our universities about racism is a reflection of the underlying anger that is brewing at ground zero level. That “ground zero level” are our townships.

My own conversations with people across this country, from small towns to big cities, tell the same story. I was in the Karoo this past week, visiting various towns.

Ordinary people told me about powerful, wealthy, unelected people who have historically controlled the politics, the business, the land and the education in rural towns. And how they still do today.

If our politicians and corporations do not recognise that the political ground zero is every South African informal settlement and township, they are both missing the policy and investment direction to grow our future prosperity.

How many townships and Temporary Relocation Areas does the government think they can still build until it all explodes into one almighty Sharpeville?

Analyse the average government minister’s speech over a year and see how often the word “justice” appears in it? Far too little.

MECs and ministers have become “rent a speaker” entities, with no deep conviction towards the bold narratives that this country needs currently.

A tepid “say-nothing” presentation that backslaps all and sundry is the best we can expect. Read the annual reports and newsletters of NGOs, Foundations and corporate CSI groups.

The justice narrative is never deliberate. In fact, it is often absent for fear of offending donors and board members. Look at the boards of NGOs. Many who serve on it have no orientation towards or preference for critical justice.

In a country that has suffered from injustices for centuries, one would think that the latest research on critical justice theory would emerge from its soil as an indigenous natural outgrowth and dominant narrative.

In every sphere of life, we have people who have not suffered injustices due to the colour of their skin, telling us that issues like justice and Critical Race (Justice) Theory is not an issue.

We should all stop adding our R2 or R5 on to till-slips for corporate CSI campaigns until an unambiguous justice narrative emerges that is transformative and equitable.

After 27 years of doing charity, the injustice the poor live with is still pervasive. At the start of 2021, people shrieked and screamed about a white student with exceptionally good grades that did not make it into UCT’s medical school.

No one shrieks and screams about the hundreds of black doctors and lawyers who start in Grade 1 each year and never make it beyond Grade 7. No one knows their names. There is total silence about them. That’s what injustice looks like at ground zero.

Charity cannot fix the justice narrative. If we don’t fix the justice narrative in this country, our charitable efforts will become nauseating to the beneficiaries in the future.

And our lack of courage, bravery and conviction will be written about in the annual reports of history as “we knew, but we did not say anything … ”

* Lorenzo A Davids.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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