Book Review: Philanthropy in South Africa: Horizontality, Ubuntu and Social Justice by Dr Shauna Mottiar and Dr Mvuselelo Ngcoya

Prevailing narratives of philanthropy in South Africa often depict Africans as mere beneficiaries of aid from wealthy Western donors. However, a new collection of essays edited by UKZN academics Dr Shauna Mottiar and Dr Myuselelo Ngcoya has arrived to turn this out-dated notion of philanthropy upside-down. Philanthropy in South Africa: Horizontality, Ubuntu and social justice repositions the concept of African philanthropy by asking: “what about the beneficent spirit of multitudes of Africans whose acts of generosity sustain millions of their compatriots?”

Mottair reveals that the book is a project that emanates out of the Centre for Civil Society Philanthropy and Social Entrepreneurship Initiative at UKZN. “Among the aims of the Initiative [is] to entrench philanthropy as an academic discipline by contributing to African and global scholarship through teaching, research and publishing,” says Mottair. The authors, she says, strived to distinguish between charity and philanthropy in their edited volume, saying that South African philanthropy “is better placed to consider the structural and systemic elements that contribute to disempowerment.”

The book is unique in that it examines research in South Africa and the rest of Africa, through the use of relatable case studies to illuminate several themes. These include philanthropy in HIV/AIDS care, the adaptation of foreign philanthropy to domestic practices, Ubuntu ethics in townships and the nature of horizontal philanthropy in South Africa.

Influential theorists on normative ideas of philanthropy explore their views in the collection, ultimately making for a rich and well-researched book. Philanthropy in South Africa: Horizontality, Ubuntu and social justice challenges stagnant ideas about Africa and proves itself as a go-to resource for students, policymakers, philanthropic organisations and all other members of civil society who are interested in the current climate of giving and philanthropy in South Africa.

One of the most important contributions of Mottiar and Ngcoya’s work is the defining and exploration of key concepts, like horizontality in the philanthropic sphere. South African senior social development professional Susan Wilkinson-Maposa describes horizontality as “a process in which people who are [vulnerable] mobilise and share resources among themselves.”

Mottiar and Ngcoya’s exploration of this topic is important in that it subverts the restricting narrative that limits philanthropy to a flow of charity from the mega-rich to the deeply vulnerable. Rather, Philanthropy in South Africa: Horizontality, Ubuntu and social justice illustrates that philanthropy does not only flow from the wealthy to the vulnerable but also from the vulnerable to the vulnerable. “This way of seeing resource flow argues that philanthropy is multidirectional [and] giving is not the preserve of the wealthy,” points out Wilkinson-Maposa.

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