Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

THIS marks the public launch of the Five Plus Project. Its goal is to get as many comparatively well-off South Africans as possible to give at least 5% of their taxable income to organisations and initiatives helping to reduce poverty in South Africa or to alleviate its effects.

The project was inspired by Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save.

Singer is a hugely influential moral philosopher with a chair at Princeton University. His book begins like this: "On your way to work, you pass a small pond. On hot days, children sometimes play in the pond, which is only about knee-deep. The weather’s cool today, though, and the hour is early, so you are surprised to see a child splashing about in the pond. As you get closer, you see that it is a very young child, just a toddler, who is flailing about, unable to stay upright or walk out of the pond. You look for the parents or babysitter, but there is no one else around.

"The child is unable to keep his head above the water for more than a few seconds at a time. If you don’t wade in and pull him out, he seems likely to drown. Wading in is easy and safe, but you will ruin the new shoes you bought only a few days ago, and get your suit wet and muddy. By the time you hand the child over to someone responsible for him, and change your clothes, you’ll be late for work. What should you do?"

Most people would agree that you would be morally obliged to jump into the pond to save the child, even though it would spoil your shoes and make you late.

Singer argues, persuasively, that wealthy people have a similar moral obligation to help people who are dying or suffering because they are poor.

More than 16,000 people have joined an organisation named after Singer’s book. All of them have pledged some of their income to organisations helping people in poverty. How much is calculated by a progressive formula: for example, 5% if you earn R600,000 a year, 10% if you earn R3m and so on. The Five Plus Project has similar objectives, but with a specifically South African focus. And its demands are more modest.

If you are a comparatively well-off South African, it asks that once a year you take the following pledge: "I pledge that, over the coming year, I will give at least 5% of my taxable income to one or more organisations or initiatives helping to reduce poverty in South Africa or alleviate its effects."

The project does not prescribe which organisations or initiatives a person should give to. Nor will the project take the amount that a person has pledged and pass it on to the organisations or initiatives he or she has chosen. But the project will make the fact that a person has taken the pledge public. And it will prompt those who have taken the pledge to do so again, a year later.

We started the project in December last year. Our first challenge was to recruit a group of founder members. Over a two-month period, we approached about 300 friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. The response was overwhelming. More than 100 agreed to take the pledge. (See the list at the bottom of this page.)

Many of those approached provided invaluable suggestions as to how to fine-tune the project, thus improving it considerably.

The challenge now facing us is to grow the project’s membership. But even with only 100 members, the project will make a meaningful difference. But imagine how enormous a difference it would make with 5,000 or 10,000 members.

We want the project’s membership to be as diverse as possible, and have tried hard to achieve this. However, the group of founder members shows a bias towards the legal and academic professions, and towards the Western Cape, a by-product of the fact that we are both law professors based at the University of Cape Town.

We urge the widest possible range of people to join.

The Five Plus Project is not linked to any political party, religion or other grouping.

Its membership is open to all, regardless of political, religious or other affiliation.

We recognise that poverty in South Africa will not be eliminated by this kind of project.

Many other interventions are needed, involving not only private individuals but also public institutions, and tackling not only poverty’s consequences but also its causes, among them the unacceptably high levels of inequality in this country.

The Five Plus Project must not replace such interventions, but supplement them.

If you are a comparatively well-off South African, we urge you to take the pledge, and to encourage your family, friends and associates to do so.

To take the pledge or find out more about the project, e-mail fiveplusproj@gmail.com or access our website.

The website gives detailed answers to a number of important questions. But it is appropriate that we deal with two of them here.

Are you a comparatively well-off South African?

Here are some statistics regarding the past tax year. Of the 13.6-million people in employment, only 1.3% had a taxable income of R750,000 or more. Fewer than 5% had a taxable income of R400,000. And fewer than 15% had a taxable income of R200,000. If the about 4-million people seeking employment are added to those in employment, these percentages shrink substantially.

Consider also this. In 2008-09, close to 11% of South Africa’s population fell below the World Bank’s extreme poverty line of living on $1.25 a day or less.

In other words, 5-million people in South Africa were unable to meet their most basic needs for adequate food, water, shelter, clothing, sanitation, healthcare, and education.

In the same year, 26% of South Africa’s population fell below the food poverty line of R305 a month, which is the amount that one person needs in order to consume their required energy intake.

So 13-million people in South Africa were unable to get enough food into their stomachs every month.

Here is another undeniable reality. The World Bank’s Gini coefficient measures a country’s income distribution on a scale from 0 to 1, where 0 represents perfect equality and 1 perfect inequality.

In 2009, South Africa had a Gini coefficient of 0.63. That placed us among the five most unequal countries in the world.

Why does your pledge have to be made public?

You may already be giving 5% and more to relieve poverty. And it is possible that you feel uncomfortable about taking a public pledge to do so. That is understandable.

Yet there are good reasons to take a public pledge to give.

It will encourage others to give, by creating and sustaining a community of givers and a cultural norm of giving.

And it will make it more likely that you will carry out your decision to do what you know is morally right.

In other words, by taking the pledge and making it public you are certain to make an even greater contribution towards reducing poverty and its effects.

...

Five Plus Project founder members (to date)

1. Zackie Achmat: Director, Ndifuna Ukwazi; 2. Laurie Ackermann: Former Judge of the Constitutional Court; 3. Cathi Albertyn: Professor, School of Law, Wits; 4. Russell Ally: Executive Director, Development and Alumni Department, UCT; 5. Norman Arendse: Senior Counsel, Cape Bar; 6. Saleem Badat: Vice Chancellor, Rhodes University; 7. Amanda Barratt: Senior Lecturer, Department of Private Law, UCT; 8. Paul Benjamin: Director, Cheadle, Thompson & Haysom; 9. David Bilchitz: Professor and Director of SAIFAC, University of Johannesburg; 10. Michael Bishop: Legal Resources Centre; 11. Andrew Boraine: CEO, Western Cape Economic Development Partnership; 12. Alice Brown: Independent Consultant and Researcher; 13. Deborah Budlender: Independent Social Policy Researcher; 14. Schalk Burger: Senior Counsel, Cape Bar; 15. Richard Calland: Professor and Director of the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit, UCT; 16. Edwin Cameron: Judge of the Constitutional Court; 17. Jono Carr: Professor of Neurology, Stellenbosch University; 18. Matthew Chaskalson: Senior Counsel, Johannesburg Bar; 19. Imraan Coovadia: Novelist and Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, UCT; 20. Hugh Corder: Professor, Department of Public Law, UCT; 21. Ezra Davids: Partner and Head of Corporate/M&A, Bowman Gilfillan; 22. Dennis Davis: Judge of the Western Cape High Court; 23. Marius de Waal: Professor, Faculty of Law, Stellenbosch University; 24. Rob Dower: Chief Operations Officer, Allan Gray; 25. Darcy du Toit: Emeritus Professor, Faculty of Law, UWC; 26. Fanie du Toit: Director, Institute for Justice and Reconciliation; 27. Jackie Dugard: Senior Researcher, SERI and Director of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Office, Wits; 28. Jenny Erasmus: IT Manager, Faculty of Law, UCT; 29. Farid Esack: Professor and Head of the Dept of Religion Studies, University of Johannesburg; 30. Mike Evans: Head of the Public Law Division, Webber Wentzel; 31. Anton Fagan: Professor, Department of Private Law, UCT; 32. Eduard Fagan: Senior Counsel, Cape Bar; 33. Hannes Fagan: Former Deputy Judge President of the Western Cape High Court; 34. Paul Farlam: Advocate, Cape Bar; 35. Judy Favish: Director, Department of Institutional Planning, UCT; 36. Emma Fergus: Lecturer, Department of Commercial Law, UCT; 37. Josephine Fisher: Managing Director, MetropolitanRepublic; 38. Gerald Friedman: Former Judge President of the Western Cape High Court; 39. Nathan Geffen: Programme Director, Aids and Society Research Unit, UCT; 40. Jan Glazewski: Professor, Department of Public Law, UCT; 41. Richard Goodman: Senior Counsel, Cape Bar; 42. Karthy Govender: Professor, Faculty of Law, UKZN; 43. Pregs Govender: Deputy-Chair, South African Human Rights Commission; 44. Mark Heywood: Executive Director, Section27; 45. Chuma Himonga: Professor and holder of the NRF Chair in Customary Law, UCT; 46. Tim Hodgson: Section27; 47. Cora Hoexter: Professor, School of Law, Wits; 48. PJ Hope: Director, Read Hope Phillips; 49. Alten Hulme: Structural Engineer, Hulme Associates, Cape Town; 50. Sonia Human: Dean, Faculty of Law, Stellenbosch University; 51. Doron Isaacs: Deputy Secretary General, Equal Education; 52. Shaun Johnson: Chief Executive, The Mandela Rhodes Foundation; author; 53. Liesa Jossel: Plain Language Specialist, Made Plain Communications; 54. Susan Joubert: Writer and editor, self-employed; 55. Ryan Kitcat: Associate, Bowman Gilfillan; 56. Jonathan Klaaren: Professor, Wits; 57. Sandra Klopper: Deputy Vice-Chancellor, UCT; 58. Murray Leibbrandt: Pro Vice-Chancellor, School of Economics, UCT; 59. Alison Lewis: Professor and Head of the Department of Chemical Engineering, UCT; 60. Ian Lewis: Medical Specialist, Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, UCT; 61. Ian Liddle: Chief Investment Officer, Allan Gray; 62. Salona Lutchman: Lecturer, Department of Public Law, UCT; 63. Itumeleng Mahabane: Partner and Head of SA, Brunswick Group; 64. Delia Marshall: Professor, Department of Physics, UWC; 65. Stuart Mathews: Partner, McDermott, Will and Emery UK; 66. Shehnaz Meer: Judge of the Western Cape High Court; 67. Bonita Meyersfeld: Professor and Director of CALS, Wits; 68. Nyoko Muvangua: Advocate, Johannesburg Bar; 69. Livashnee Naidoo: Lecturer, Department of Commercial Law, UCT; 70. Nicoli Nattrass: Professor, School of Economics, UCT; 71. Caroline Ncube: Professor, Department of Commercial Law, UCT; 72. Njabulo Ndebele: Emeritus Professor, UCT; 73. Kate O’Regan: Former Judge of the Constitutional Court; 74. Gasant Orrie: Director, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr; 75. Fatima Osman: Lecturer, Department of Private Law, UCT; 76. Glenn Penfold: Partner, Webber Wentzel; 77. Kelly Phelps: Senior Lecturer, Department of Public Law, UCT; 78. Julia Phillips: Head of Business Support, Rand Merchant Bank; 79. Karrisha Pillay: Advocate, Cape Bar; 80. Laurine Platzky: Deputy DG, Strategic Programmes, Western Cape Government; 81. Anne Pope: Professor, Department of Private Law, UCT; 82. Deborah Posel: Professor, Institute for Humanities in Africa, UCT; 83. Cathy Powell: Senior Lecturer, Department of Public Law, UCT; 84. Max Price: Vice Chancellor, UCT; 85. Geordie Ractliffe: Aquatic Scientist and Consultant, The Freshwater Consulting Group; 86. Minoka Radhakrishnan: Corporate Finance Analyst, Old Mutual PLC; 87. Owen Rogers: Judge of the Western Cape High Court; 88. Jacques Rousseau: Lecturer, Faculty of Commerce, UCT; 89. Alan Rycroft: Deputy Dean, Faculty of Law, UCT; 90. Ujala Satgoor: Director, Rhodes University Library; 91. Kate Savage: Partner, Haffegee Roskam Savage; 92. PJ Schwikkard: Dean, Faculty of Law, UCT; 93. Helen Scott: Professor, Department of Private Law, UCT; 94. Pippa Skotnes: Professor and Chair of the Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT; 95. Dee Smythe: Professor and Director of the Centre for Law and Society, UCT; 96. Crain Soudien: Deputy Vice-Chancellor, UCT; 97. Puso Thahane: Associate, Bowman Gilfillan; 98. Chris Todd: Director, Bowman Gilfillan; 99. Wim Trengove: Senior Counsel, Johannesburg Bar; 100. Tim Tucker: CEO, SEAD Consulting (Pty) Ltd; 101. Elrena van der Spuy: Professor, Department of Public Law, UCT; 102. André van der Walt: Professor, Faculty of Law, Stellenbosch University; 103. Karen van Heerden: Deputy Registrar, UCT; 104. Sandy van Hoogstraten: Social Activist; 105. Rudi van Rooyen: Senior Counsel, Cape Bar; 106. Randall van Voore: Director, Bowman Gilfillan; 107. Danie Visser: Deputy Vice-Chancellor, UCT; 108. Harro von Blottnitz: Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, UCT; 109. Marlese von Broembsen: Senior Lecturer, Department of Public Law, UCT; 110. David Watson: Advocate, Johannesburg Bar; 111. Emma Webber: Pupil, Johannesburg Bar; 112. Miriam Wheeldon: Attorney, Johannesburg Legal Resources Centre; 113. Renata Williams: Senior Counsel, Cape Bar; 114. Francis Wilson: Professor and Senior Scholar, School of Economics, UCT; 115. Harald Winkler: Professor and Director of the Energy Research Centre, UCT; 116. Stu Woolman: Professor, School of Law, Wits; 117. Jacqui Yeats: Senior Lecturer, Department of Commercial Law, UCT.

Corder is professor of public law and Fagan is WP Schreiner professor of law at the University of Cape Town.