It’s not all black vs white

2012-07-14 13:00

When will we realise that people across the racial spectrum are committed to transformation?

It was German theoretical physicist Dr Albert Einstein who once said: “An empty stomach is not a good political adviser.” In Setswana, we simply whisper: “Tsie e fofa ka moswana.”

Having missed the cut for the ruling party’s recent policy conference and its attendant shindig, I had an opportunity last week to indulge my belly while catching up with a property entrepreneur colleague of mine, who I shall call Lesedi.

He and I have a shared passion for information technology, small business development and...good food!

As we settled down for an early breakfast rendezvous, business and politics took centre court.

Quick to the draw, Lesedi enquired about my business prospects before I could ask about his.

After telling him about my current forays into food manufacturing, it was my turn to play inquisitor.

I was particularly curious to ask how the recent economic downturn had affected his business and, most importantly, what he made of the current politics of small business development in South Africa.

To my pleasant surprise, what we discussed was an insightful barometer of the state of entrepreneurship and social cohesion in South Africa.

Like almost all businesses in the past few years, Lesedi’s property venture has not been immune to the perilous effects of the global economic meltdown, which has devastated countless businesses and dreams.

Although Lesedi comes from what our generation would consider a “middle-class background” in black communities, he, like most of his ilk, is still in a capital-accumulation phase.

Perseverance (or should I say “stubbornness”), diligence, effective networking and sheer luck are some of the words that come to mind if I were to describe his remarkable story of survival and his ability to turn his business around during these turbulent years.

What fascinates me most about his experiences, though, is the role played by white businesspeople in helping him sustain and advance his entrepreneurial dreams, which were, at one stage, in dire straits.

Were it not for the advanced business networks and support of his white mentor, Lesedi’s business dreams would have gone up in smoke.
While all this was happening, he was turned away by government-funded institutions.

The stark reality is an increasing number of black entrepreneurs are beginning to embrace mentorship by white, experienced businesspeople – a phenomenon that can, no doubt, contribute towards attaining our black economic emancipation and social cohesion objectives.

It is therefore disquieting to observe how we (black leadership in business, politics, labour and government) seem to fervently agitate for continued alienation of whites and their capital in our quest for greater economic participation in the economy by blacks.

Listening to our leaders talk about the need for economic transformation can make one believe that ours is a zero-sum game in which one side (blacks) must win and the other (white) must lose – which should not be the case.

It would even make one think that the black majority in this country has never attained political power.

Lest we forget, black people have at our disposal legislative and other political instruments to effect the necessary transformation in our country.

We are the architects of BEE, land restitution, universal health and many other projects.

We are just hopeless in their implementation.

And our leaders do not understand that they are in power and with that they bear the “solemn” duty of being responsible to the citizenry.

How else does one explain that after 18 years of democracy ours is a society still deeply troubled and divided along racial and economic lines?

How else does one explain and justify that school kids in Limpopo have been forced to struggle for over six months without books and no one has taken, or been forced to take, responsibility?

The same goes for small business development. It is now common knowledge that even state-funded development funding institutions (DFIs) have become a bastion for the political dynasty and for tenderpreneurs.

Countless budding black entrepreneurs have been turned away at DFI doors simply because they lacked favourable political credentials. And the list of own goals goes on and on.

Should we still blame all our socioeconomic woes on apartheid? I beg to differ!

Until such time as we blacks show faith in the transformation project we aspire to and desist from haranguing whites for our lack of delivery, the emergence of a “black” Discovery or Bidvest will remain an elusive dream.

Our leaders cannot forever see thorns in the roses extended to us by a legion of fellow white compatriots who are no less committed to the transformation project than President Jacob Zuma is to securing his second term.

To borrow another phrase from Einstein, who originally said it about America, though it applies just as strongly to us: it appears that race prejudice will, unfortunately, become a South African tradition that is uncritically (and will unwittingly be) handed down from one generation to the next.

It appears that the only remedies for the misguided views of our emasculated leaders are enlightenment and education.

»Khaas is president of the South African SMME Forum, an advocacy body that advances the interests of small businesses


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