Dr Sibongile Vilakazi | 29 May 2023
Members of the Gift of the Givers foundation load supplies on pallets. Today the Foundation provides relief and hope to many in distress, teaching us what impact society can have when individuals and sectors come together to adopt an attitude of collective responsibility for our wellbeing and safety rather than individualism, says the author.
When I moved into my neighbourhood, two neighbours came one after another to welcome me into the neighbourhood and tell me what a great choice I had made of moving into the area because of its safety and many other virtues that they had appreciated after many years of living in the area.
Soon after the two neighbours left, a street committee member knocked on my door to invite me to join the neighbourhood WhatsApp group and show me how I could contribute an amount of money towards the boom gate patrol guards and neighbourhood security. I must say, I found myself taken aback by these gestures. I was immediately made to feel that I was a member of a community and as community dwellers we were jointly responsible for protecting each other and our valuables. Unfortunately, its rare nowadays to feel jointly responsible for each other as South Africans.
Far too often the demon of individualism engulfs us. Individualism is a value system that favours human independence, personal identity, and freedom over collective good or altruism.
There are a lot of good traits of individualism, especially in driving competition and top performance in business. The unique skills of individuals and their creativity can be harvested to the benefit of the organisation. It can push people to innovate, be their ultimate best and boost engagement with the task at hand.
Unfortunately, though, what we see in our society are the extreme sides of individualism where every man/woman is for him/herself. Individuals want to be seen to be doing well financially, living in expensive estates, and driving luxury cars at all costs. To get simple assistance from someone on the streets, they ask you for “cold drink” or thank you fee.
Businesses are holding on to toxic methods of maximising profits and often find ways to short-change efforts aimed at mobilising collective responsibility for solving societal problems, such as Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment. We’ve become a people that asks; what’s in it for me rather than what’s in it for us. How do I contribute to your success while on my way to my success? From the most downtrodden to the most privileged of people, the attitude is the same. ‘Omunye ukhomba omunye esweni, omunye uvikela iso lakhe’, in Zulu we say.
Then a cholera outbreak hits Hamanskraal township, after water challenges in the area have for years been used by politicians on the campaign trail to garner votes. The toxic water conditions in the township were well documented and known by those who have the power to intervene, but they didn’t intervene, instead they used it as a campaign tool. This even though it is the responsibility of the state to provide clean and safe water to all South Africans. It’s difficult to fathom that in the well-resourced modern day South Africa, in a township situated in the economic hub of the country, we have a cholera outbreak.
As the Department of Health tries to curtail the situation - at a snail’s pace - and the death toll keeps rising, in comes the Gift of the Givers Foundation to donate water bottles and hygiene packs to the community. Gift of the Givers Foundation is a disaster response non-governmental South African organisation. The organisation is the largest in Africa, and it is interesting to note that the organisation received its first substantial funding from corporate South Africa in 2017, after the deadly storm in Cape Town and its surrounds.
Today, the Foundation provides relief and hope to many in distress, teaching us what impact society can have when individuals and sectors come together to adopt an attitude of collective responsibility for our wellbeing and safety rather than individualism. When we adopt an attitude of collective responsibility, we force ourselves to all search for what we have that we can offer, however small or large, to the betterment of all of us.
Policies such as Employment Equity and Black Economic Empowerment attempt to foster a collective national psyche that keeps us conscious of the fact that we are joined together by our past and we therefore have a collective responsibility to free ourselves from the chains of our past by contributing to the socio-economic development of our fellow compatriots while on the journey to developing ourselves. Unfortunately, the demon of individualism is robbing us of seeing the intended impact of such policies as individuals and organisations scramble for opportunities to benefit themselves first at the expense of the collective.
We must resist this demon before it sees the end of our socio-economic development and transformation efforts. We still have a long way to go.
‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’.