Cause célèbre

Why do celebrities get philanthropic? ‘Well, it enhances their careers,” Johannesburg-based publicist Matlapulana Ragoasha says, mastering a falsetto over the phone, and chuckling. ‘They have learned to receive through giving.”

Naomi Klein couldn’t agree more. In her recent book, No Logo, she blasted the ‘Bonoisation” of activism and said the star’s Project (RED) T-shirts, sold in Gap stores around the world, are the cause of global inequity, not the solution.

But no matter. Celebrity philanthropy is on the rise and there’s no stopping it. Celebrities are increasingly becoming a mandatory presence on philanthropic boards — and at their events — as a way to bring in the serious cash.

In fact, celebrity philanthropy has become such big business that websites such as are dedicated solely to the subject.

Some celebrities are known as much for their humanitarian activities as they are for their entertainment work.

Angelina Jolie maintains a massive presence in the NGO sector and is attached to more than 20 organisations around the world. It is reported that she, with Brad Pitt, donated more than $8-million in 2006 alone.

That was the same year Jolie gave People magazine the rights to print the first picture showing her visibly pregnant in exchange for a $500 000 donation to the Yéle Haiti Foundation, a platform founded by musician Wyclef Jean to help with social relief for the impoverished Caribbean island.

Reach for a Dream, a South African organisation aimed at helping children with life-threatening diseases, makes extensive use of local star power.

Rugby idols such as Brian Habana and a number of football icons, including Teko Modise, are always on call to lend their bling appeal.

The organisation’s Johannesburg branch manager, Bronwyn Feldwick-Davis, says donors like celebrities because ‘it’s as though they vouch for them”.

She says celebrities help to raise the public’s awareness of projects — whenever the organisation has events, such as its annual Celebrity Golf Day, it sells more tickets just because people know they’ll be playing with celebrities.

But Feldwick-Davis says it’s not just about money. ‘Some celebrities get angry when they feel you used them just to get money,” she says, adding that she’s not convinced that the organisation would raise enough money if celebrities weren’t part of the fundraising process.

Bonginkosi Dlamini, known for his philanthropic-centred TV programme, Zola 7, recently partnered with Cell C to launch a branded starter pack that will give a percentage from every call made to schools and Aids orphanages. ‘I don’t think doing the Zola 7 campaign should be my job alone. Every human being should do it,” Dlamini says. ‘My duty is just to remind South Africans to do something.”

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