What it costs to make a change?

30 April 2014

UCT Law Professors Hugh Corder and Anton Fagan are giving 5% of their salary (or more) to help reduce poverty – and are encouraging other South Africans to do the same. The Five Plus Project already has over 150 members committed to contributing financially to social change. Are you one?

Hugh Corder and Anton Fagan

You're on your way to work when you see a small child in a pond. Not waving but drowning. What do you do?

This is the challenge posed by moral philosopher Peter Singer in his book, The Life You Can Save, in which he argues that, just as you're morally obliged to save the drowning child (even if it makes you late for work), wealthy people have an obligation to help those less well-off.

Inspired by this challenge, UCT Law Professors Hugh Corder and Anton Fagan have started the Five Plus Project, as part of which they commit to giving at least 5% of their taxable income to poverty alleviation organisations – and are encouraging other well-off South Africans to do the same.

In a South Africa context, who is well off? If you're taking home an annual taxable income of R200 000 or more, you're in the top 11% of South Africans who are either employed or seeking work – and definitely count as wealthy. If you have adequate food, water, shelter, clothing, sanitation, healthcare, and education, you already have more than the 11% of South Africans below the World Bank's extreme poverty line of US$1.25 a day.

Five Plus started with 118 founder members – including Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price, his wife Professor Deborah Posel, Deputy Vice-Chancellors Professors Sandra Klopper, Crain Soudien and Danie Visser as well as Dr Russell Ally, executive director of the Development and Alumni Department. Other prominent South Africans who have publically pledged to donate 5% of their income, are lifetime activist and Treatment Action Campaign founder Zackie Achmat, Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron, Western Cape Judge Dennis Davis and former UCT Vice-Chancellor Emeritus Professor Njabulo Ndebele.

Since the project's March launch, an additional 30-plus people have signed. "Our goal is to recruit 1 000 members by the end of the year," says Fagan, who has been leading the recruitment drive since December last year. "The most effective way to recruit is to contact people directly. This means that to reach our goal, we'll have to contact over 2 000 people."

Fagan and Corder have enlisted the help of students to supercharge their recruitment drive using social media. "We're working hard to widen our geographical, professional and demographic spread," says Corder.

He doesn't see Five Plus as a "substitute for other action or involvement to address the systemic reasons for inequality and poverty" but believes that something must be done: "Not only is poverty pervasive, but we also live in one of the three most unequal societies in the world – I can't stand by idly when I see the drowning child in the pond."

Story by Abigail Calata. Image by Michael Hammond.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Please view the republishing articles page for more information.