Moshal puts money on better SA leadership
As the single biggest donor to political parties in South Africa, Durban-born billionaire Martin Moshal is deeply motivated to helping the country fulfil its potential and the promises of the past.
“So many people made the ultimate sacrifice to create a democratic South Africa for a better future for all. In the past few years, it should be clear to all that those sacrifices have been put at risk and could have been for nothing. What a tragedy that would be,” the philanthropist and entrepreneur told the SA Jewish Report in an exclusive interview on 31 July.
Notoriously media-shy, he quips that “publicly, I try to be a man of few words. At home with my Jewish wife, I’m forced to be!” However, he feels it’s important to explain why he has donated a cumulative R44.5 million to the Democratic Alliance (DA) and ActionSA. His donations accounted for 16% of all donations received by South African political parties in the past two years, and more is still to come.
Moshal donates to political parties because he wants to have a wider and deeper impact. “The social returns of good governance and a growing economy are enormous. As individuals, there’s only so much we can achieve. A government has the ability to have an impact on the entire country for better or worse. That’s why investment in competent parties with integrity can have such an impact on the country as a whole.
“At this moment in history, it’s important to provide support to all centre-left and centre-right parties,” says Moshal. “I’m supporting the DA, ActionSA, and I intend to support Mmusi Maimane’s Build One South Africa as well as the Inkatha Freedom Party. If they come together or work in some way as a team, they could provide solid leadership and government of the country.
“I’m not saying these parties are all perfect, but we shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of good,” Moshal says. “They are all far better than the government we have today. I don’t think people fully appreciate how big an impact donations can make in potentially improving the prospects of these parties and our country. Given our country’s history and the current situation, there’s a strong moral argument for supporting opposition parties if we have the means to do so. They need our financial help. The payoff is changing the trajectory of millions of lives for the better. With such a return, I believe it is an incredibly good bet!”
Born and raised in Durban, Moshal studied Business Science at the University of Cape Town. He has been a serial entrepreneur in the internet and software industry for more than 20 years, building a number of start-ups, and today, is a long-term investor in several technology companies.
He says philanthropy is a core family value. “Giving and helping others where possible was just something I saw happen within my family and the Durban Jewish community I grew up in. Leaders and philanthropists within the community were always highly regarded and held up as role models. I was fortunate to have many great examples within my own family.
“Pirkei Avot was my late dad, John Moshal’s, favourite part of the Talmud within which Rabbi Tarfon is quoted as saying, ‘It’s not up to you to finish the task, but you aren’t free to avoid it.’” I believe this applies perfectly to philanthropy. We might not be able to solve all the world’s problems, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do what we can to make a difference. It’s about trying to make the world a better place in whatever way we can.”
He hopes his donations will go towards “creating organisations that will gain significant support from the people in the upcoming elections, even to the point where these parties could eventually take control and govern the country. It’s a real possibility – the chances of which can be substantially increased through meaningful donations.”
He describes himself as an optimist, and says he wouldn’t be making these donations if he didn’t have hope for South Africa. But he stresses that time is limited. “I would like a future like that which we were all hoping for in 1994 – a growing economy, with security, great opportunities for all, and continued improvement of citizen’s lives. The passion, energy, and innovation of South Africans remains extraordinary. People deserve a country where they can harness that. Given South Africa’s young population, the potential, given good governance, is enormous.”
These particular political parties can deliver a better future, he says, because “they won’t steal from their own citizens and will provide competent government compared to the incumbents, which is, quite frankly, a pretty low bar to beat!”
However, if South Africa continues on its current trajectory, “It’s on the way to becoming a failed state. I’m not trying to be overly dramatic, and it might take some time before we reach that point, but the signs are there,” he says. “A government that’s corrupt, cannot provide basic security and opportunity to its citizens, together with failing infrastructure and an inability to keep the lights on, alongside its ever-declining moral stature in the world isn’t going to suddenly become an overnight success. We need the change of government and leadership that these parties can provide.”
Growing up in the South African Jewish community had an impact on who he is today. “The South African Jewish community is almost unique in the world – a blend of tradition and pragmatism without the lowering of halachic standards. This unique combination, together with my Jewish education at Carmel in Durban has, for me at least, provided a solid foundation of identity and meaning from which all else flows.”
His Moshal Foundation does much good work around the globe. “Thankfully, we’ve been fortunate to be involved in many great causes over the years,” he says. “Some that I am most proud of in South Africa would be the Moshal Scholarship Program, which funds students’ university fees and assists them to get jobs, my sister’s CHIVA Africa (an HIV charity), as well as donations to Innovation Africa, which uses Israeli technology for the provision of water to rural communities.”
To the community, he says, “Have faith that the future can be better, but don’t just sit back and hope for the best. Actively work to make it happen, be it through time or monetary support, particularly to these parties. Individuals can make a difference – for good and bad. We’ve seen this frequently in South Africa’s recent history. At the same time, be aware of the warning signs. Try to understand what a sinking ship looks like, and if we get there – chas vashalom – don’t be afraid to take the appropriate action quickly.” But he feels that we’re not there yet.