Jacques on the dangers of “drive-by charity”

It’s Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday and those in South Africa and beyond are being asked to donate 67 minutes of their time to a charity or good cause of some description in honour of the 67 years of Madiba’s struggle for human rights.
This annual request is a big thing in South Africa, because the birthday is a big thing in South Africa, because Mandela is a huge thing in South Africa. If you engage with anyone here via any means today, you will be asked what you are doing for your 67 minutes.

Daily Maverick Opinionista and all-round bearded intellectual Jacques Rousseau does have a word of warning for us though:

…even though nation-building exercises like Mandela Day can frequently appear to be little more than an excuse for some warm and fuzzy sentimentality, my hope is that this year – and today, July 18 – can remind us that 67 minutes of our time, on one day of the year, will probably make no difference at all.

It’s perhaps not meant to make a difference in any case – at least not in isolation, and not because of any particular activity you might perform during the 67 minutes that we’re being encouraged to donate, in honour of Mandela’s 67 years of service to South Africa. The 67 minutes spent assisting some charity or another will be appreciated, but are unlikely to make a lasting difference unless we use the day as motivation to become more engaged in general.

And, surprise surprise, once again he’s correct – at least, for me, in the most part.
All too often, people do their 67 minutes each year because they are afraid of being socially ostracised if they don’t, rather than out of any genuine sense of social duty. And yes, far more could be achieved and far more people helped if individuals extended their charitable work beyond 67 minutes and beyond July 18th each year. It would be nice if that happened.

But then that sentiment applies to a lot of things in this world which are never going to happen.

So, at risk of being accused of pessimism, but actually taking a more realistic stance, I’m all for “drive-by” charity if that’s all we’re going to get. Because any action is better than none and with so many people working for 67 minutes – even if it is just 67 minutes each year – stuff will happen. The scale here is important, sure, but with the most desirable outcome patently out of reach, doing something is surely better than doing nothing.

If you are going to do your 67 minutes today, well done. If you’re going to actually go back and do more before next July, then take a bow. But even if you fall into that former pool, you’ve done something and you’ve made some small difference. I don’t see any problem with that.

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