Why affirmative action still matters: Dudu Msomi

2012-09-15 12:19

September, being Heritage Month, stimulates a heightened consciousness of the legacy we are building for our country and the next generation.

Despite the growing numbers of an educated workforce, African people continue to hold a small proportion of leadership and powerful roles in business.

Many are toothless, lacking authority, regardless of their titles, to make decisions to truly transform the status quo. And many of them occupy these positions for compliance reasons, pacified by lucrative pay cheques.

Nearly two decades on, there are categories that still have a bearing on the quality of African people’s lives. In my case, African and female. One can choose to be disingenuous and pretend it is not a reality.

Solidarity’s opposition to Woolworth’s policy of representation based on the country’s racial demographics thrusts the truth into the spotlight, making it impossible to ignore.

Were it not for being specifically sought after because I am an African female, mostly for compliance reasons, I would suffer worse than I do.

I still feel like a foreigner in the country of my birth. It is naive to think sheer merit is sufficient. Individuals who think that way usually gleefully focus on the perverted examples of “tokens” deliberately appointed as professionals, “shareholders”, board members or service providers to lend their colour or connections, rather than their competence and skills, to demonstrate the “evils” of employment equity or BEE.

But there are many untold cases far from such sabotaging practices.

I matriculated from the independent girls’ school, Wykenham Collegiate, and got my degrees from the University of Natal, Durban.

I gained my MBA from GIBS, which is among the top 50 ­business schools in the world, with ­respectable results. Yet, despite these outstanding institutions that have ­contributed to developing my competence and expertise, combined with my passion and ­professional work ethic, my opportunities have only been possible through legislative intervention.

I founded Busara Leadership Partners in 2009. I have deliberately steered away from being a tenderpreneur to develop and consolidate a credible value proposition for my company that will thrive in a BEE-less South Africa and in the world.

Only one client has been a white male, not out of choice, who approached our firm because of the value he believed we would bring to a strategic problem if there were no colour issues attached.

The rest of the business is through referrals by committed fellow Africans to other African managers and entrepreneurs who appreciate that our stability and success as a country rests on the viability of a large pool of entrepreneurs, and the recognition that black business owners are more likely to hire black professionals and managers than white business owners, unless compelled by law to do so.

Fellow South Africans and Solidarity, we need to transform our mindset and value system around changing the ­distorted racial make-up and accept that the majority of people in South Africa are indigenous Africans who must be ­proportionately represented in business and whose value must go beyond mere compliance.

» Msomi is CEO of Busara Leadership Partners 

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