It is not enough to give poor people money, food or blankets and then expect them to continue with their miserable lives, says the writer. File picture: Agustin Marcarian/Reuters
Cape Town - In the apartheid days, people used to say that a true test of non-racialism was if you would let your daughter marry someone from another race. Of course, this notion seems silly nowadays because most parents have probably realised that it is not up to them who their daughters marry, but it was the sentiment in that question that was important.

I have been thinking about this in the past few days or weeks in light of the happenings in the DA but also in light of what I have observed about the way some big corporates do for what they call corporate social investment (CSI).

Let me try to illustrate with another anecdote. Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to be chosen as a Research Fellow at Emory University in Atlanta, where I met one of my best friends. He was an Anglican priest (or Episcopal as they say in the US) and probably one of the most progressive people I have ever met, despite growing up in the racist deep South.

He ran a reasonably successful church in Atlanta with mainly black parishioners, because this is the nature of a city with a black majority. While I was spending time with him and his family, he was approached by a church in Mobile, Alabama, to become their parish priest.

We talked about it for weeks and he finally decided to take up the offer because of their strong outreach programme (and the fact that the pay was better, but he tried to downplay that).

I had already returned to South Africa when he and his family moved to Mobile. The more he preached his message of togetherness and tolerance, more blacks, gays and poor people started attending the church.

Less than 18 months into his tenure, he was fired. When I visited him in Mobile a few months after he became unemployed, he explained to me that, while the church was quite prepared to do outreach, they did not really want to do in-reach (if there is such a word).

They were prepared to take food parcels and do humanitarian work, but they did not want poor people to come to their church. They were prepared to work in black communities and reach out to the LGBTQI+ community, but they did not want them to reach back.

He eventually had to move to another city, where he worked with prisoners and where he was happy.

This story came to my mind as I thought about the DA and their feeble attempts to reach out to blacks and their rapid promotion of some black leaders. As soon as the black leaders come to close to the centre of power, they get cut off.

In short, the DA wants to reach out to black South Africans, but it appears they want to keep the party’s leadership in white hands.

The same could be said of corporates who do amazing work in poor communities but, in the end, they enter these communities and later return to their comfortable homes while the poor people are left behind to wallow in their misery. None of these corporates question why they need to do CSI in the first place and what needs to be done to break down the inequalities in society that leads to some people having so much more than others.

It is not enough to give poor people money, food or blankets and then expect them to continue with their miserable lives. One needs to look at what can be done to change their conditions so that there would no longer be a need for CSI.

I suppose it is only when one allows people who might be perceived to be different from you to sleep in your home, or for you to sleep in theirs, that one can begin to understand the complexities of our society. It is not good enough only to do outreach. We must be prepared to do in-reach also.

* Ryland Fisher is chief executive of Ikusasa Lethu Media. Follow him on Twitter: @rylandfisher

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