How much honesty is there behind charity?

Last week, a furore broke out among opposition political parties in South Africa over the handing out of food hampers by the ruling ANC party’s youth wing (ANCYL), to destitute communities in Phillipi in the Western Cape. It is alleged that the food hampers were provided by a government ministry.

To those not familiar with South African politics, this apparent act of kindness by the government and one of its agencies not normally known for any sort of decency, would have gone unnoticed and unquestioned. However if you are in opposition politics or familiar with (well publicised) government dishonesty, or even just plain cynical, this act of generosity would have raised a few eyebrows at the least. You see, the Western Cape is the only Province in South Africa which voted overwhelmingly against the ruling ANC in the last general elections, and the selective targeting of poor people in this particular part of the country for charity, could and should be construed (in all fairness) to be clearly politically motivated. The poor in Phillipi are no worse off than the poor elsewhere, and surely those who voted the ANC into power in the other provinces would be equally, if not more appreciative of some assistance? The truth is that when the government’s humanitarian efforts become selective, rather than nationally organized, you can bet that some grubby politicians are thinking about where their next votes are coming from.

However, dishonesty in charitable work is not confined to government or politics. In fact, the motivation to be charitable, from a religious perspective are far more dishonest than any emanating from politics or big business. This scandal-in-the-making in the Western Cape (which will be swept under the carpet as usual) reminded me of an e-mail I received from a church elder a few months ago, about how they had so kindly fed about a hundred or so, sickly and poor people waiting at a public hospital for treatment. And again, for those of you not living in South Africa or are fortunate enough not to have to attend one of these institutions of gross inhumanity; public hospitals are a cesspool of neglect, mismanagement, and fraud perpetrated by both administrators and public officials alike, understaffed and under-equipped. Anyway back to the e-mail, and the now infamous words that still trouble my mind:

THANKS FOR THOSE THAT ASSISTED IN SPONSORSHIP FOR SANDWICHES ,MIRACLE REVIVAL CENTER NOT ONLY PROVIDED FOOD FOR THE HUNGRY ,BUT ALSO SPIRITUAL FOOD FOR THE SOUL. REFER TO ATTACHMENTS BELOW...

WITHIN 30 MINUTES OVER 200 SANDWICHES OF VARIED TASTE PROVIDED NOURISHMENT TO HUNGRY SOULS ,SOME WAITING IN THE HOSPITAL FROM 03H00 IN THE MORNING WITHOUT ANY NOURISHMENT .BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY OVER 100 TRACKS[WITH MRC DETAILS ] WERE DISHED OUT TO PEOPLE WHO WERE ACCEPTING TO THE WORD OF GOD AND HAVE THE TIME TO DIGEST IT....????

THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE WILLING TO SHARE IN THIS EXPERIENCE ARE MOST WELCOME AS WE PLAN TO MAKE IT A ONCE IN A MONTH EFFORT ..........WE COULD LOOK AT THE OTHER HALF OF THE MRC BEING FULL UP BY DECEMBER 2009...?????

Clearly the effort to feed these helpless people was motivated by the desire to proselytize and proliferate a particular insidious religious doctrine with the end-expectation of causing half-empty churches to magically fill up again. For church administrators, full churches equate to a steady job and income, and off course the perpetuation of a belief system. For religious individuals the effort represents a way to solicit favor with a supernatural benefactor and supposedly pave the way for an easy entry into the famous afterlife. However for individuals, an even more crass reason to be charitable is to satisfy a religious or scriptural requirement. It’s as good as saying that if it was not a tenet of their faith, then it would not be required of one to be charitable. Fortunately religion advocates charity and thus earns itself a minor saving grace.

As an afterthought; it’s now December and I wonder if the Miracle Revival Center’s other half  is now full with sick people hoping for a miracle cure. Or, failing that, as is the most probable outcome, would they be happy with a sandwich and a tract instead?

Big business is another contributor in the dishonesty stakes when it comes to charity. You’ve all heard about those social responsibility programmes which every modern company seems to have. It looks good on the balance sheet and is useful for tax purposes. It is also useful as a motivational tool for making your employees think they are doing great humanitarian work, while they enforce your despicable shareholder-enriching policies, poverty-inducing price schemes and couldn’t-give-a-shit service practices, which fucks the poor anyway. Yeah, it’s always nice to make everyone think you’re giving back some of what you stole in the first place.

And back to individuals or even organized groups; there is always dishonesty when the object of your supposed benevolence is limited to a particular ethnic, racial or social group. Only last week, the daughter of a friend told me of a group of cute Indian children that she and her church had assisted. She had meant for me to also single out that particular racial group of children for special attention. While I believe that she did it unthinkingly and innocently, it is still not acceptable behaviour.  Charity is not charity when it is targeted at certain individuals, racial, ethnic or even religious groups. It is nothing short of bigotry; only done to appease your own troubled mind.

The big question is, should it matter to the poor and destitute what the motivations are behind their benefactor’s supposed good deeds? One could argue that they should not be choser’s, and they should not question the intentions of those that contribute to their well-being. Off course they shouldn’t have to! The situation that the poor and destitute find themselves in should not be exploited by those with hidden or dishonest agendas. It’s up to honest people to not allow the religious, the politicians, business and others to take advantage of the poor, and must expose it wherever it happens.

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