Motsepe’s Gift: or how Philanthropy serves Capitalism in South Africa

Elizabeth Cobbett, Elizabeth Friesen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The recent decision by South Africa’s mining magnate Patrice Motsepe to donate half of his wealth to charity is an opportune moment to examine the relationship between capitalism and philanthropy. It is capitalists who are philanthropic. Philanthropy presents a more humane face of capitalism and conceals its penchant for avaricious accumulation. It is particularly germane to ask questions about this relationship within the context of South Africa where the gap between wealth and poverty is widening. Power, for Fernand Braudel, is the product of bringing together the state and capitalism into a common project of development. It is here, at this point of common interest between capitalists and the state, where the unmistakable characteristic of ‘real’ capitalism exists, to gain monopolistic control of the most profitable sectors of the economy. In the case of South Africa, this is the minerals–energy complex.
Firstly, we argue that social order in South Africa has kept a small powerful capital class in place while allowing a new black elite to increase its ranks. This integration of blacks has not changed the distribution of wealth in the country; rather it reflects broader patterns of capital accumulation by a minority and growing wealth disparity. Next, we claim that the tradition of philanthropy, employed by magnates such as Motsepe, is considered an appropriate response to growing social economic and political inequalities. The World Economic Forum provides a site to reap the benefits of capitalist success while receiving absolution for capitalist accumulation by means of donation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSelected Themes in African Studies: Political Conflict and Stability
EditorsLucky Asuelime , Joseph Yaro
Place of PublicationCham
Number of pages11
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-06001-9
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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