Private funding will help to keep democracy alive. By Shelagh Gastrow - Business Report


The key difference between private philanthropic funding and money coming from the government or the corporate sector is the issue of accountability. Mark Shuttleworth is putting money into defending constitutional rights in Africa.

Private funding will help to keep democracy alive. By Shelagh Gastrow - Business Report

South Africa is a society that is continually pushing the boundaries; be they in areas of socio-economic development, new business models, innovative technologies, political formations, or the civil society sector. Most critically however, we are moulding our judicial system by continually challenging issues through the courts, impacting both on our daily lives and how we are governed. South African philanthropic foundations currently form the bedrock of support for many civil society organisations in the country. When Mark Shuttleworth made his fortune in 1999, he subsequently established the Shuttleworth Foundation which currently provides funding for people involved in social change.

More recently he made headlines when he contested the 10% tax by the Reserve Bank for moving his money abroad. After winning his case, he indicated that this money would be invested in a foundation run by “veteran and retired constitutional scholars, judges and lawyers” that would provide support for organisations and individuals who needed to litigate “where the counterparty is the state” both within South Africa and on the rest of the continent. 

Litigation in South Africa is often used as a way to engage with our new constitution and it is an important part of the cut and thrust of our new democracy, assessing the limits of our rights and responsibilities. At the same time, it is extremely difficult for most citizens to litigate and therefore this fund is a welcome addition to those few other sources of funding for litigation.

Going to the courts is always a last resort for citizens who will have tried many other avenues to engage with the state or the corporate sector. Both government and corporates are well resourced in comparison to individual citizens or non-profit organisations, and philanthropy can play a key role in supporting various initiatives to ensure that our Bill of Rights and our Constitution are defended.

Mark Shuttleworth’s contribution is a forward thinking decision which will hopefully play a significant role in ensuring that our democracy survives and thrives.

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