Let down by our leaders

2009-11-02 00:00

IN these catastrophic times for many black small business-people who are trying to do business in impoverished communities, I have to invoke the tradition of strong men and women long gone. These were men and women of courage, honour, wisdom, dignity and honesty who once led our business association.

These were men and women who epitomised tremendous style, elegance, resilience and agency. They were men and women who were able to look darkness in the face unflinchingly and still smile.

These men and women built the black business community into a formidable conglomerate in the seventies and eighties, thereby co-ordinating their efforts towards a common goal.

Back then there were very few resources to assist black businesspeople.

The culture of elitism among our current black business leaders has blinded them to the wounds and bruises of the members of the black business community so that their plight has been completely overlooked, ignored and downplayed. There is a blatant lack of leadership qualities and an acute crisis of organisational capacity among them.

The leaders in the black business community have sold out. Their preoccupation is to fight for positions, instead of creating space for others to access business opportunities.

Our leaders have become peacocks, preoccupied with showing off their achievements.

In the meantime our young aspiring businesspeople have reached the conclusion that their leadership in KwaZulu-Natal is not only a lie, a joke and a farce, but that it does not have the structural capacity to treat its members decently.

As we reflect on the miserable statistics documenting the deplorable state of our black business leadership, we must never downplay the crucial role that the core of business leaders of the past generation played during our economic struggle.

Economic freedom for black business cannot afford to entertain the feeling that we don’t want to organise and mobilise anymore.

There is still a need to raise issues and ask questions. There is a need to bequeath a legacy to our children.

Black business must emulate the leaders of the past generation who did not fall for the hype of success and positions at the expense of the black business community.

They did not confuse prosperity with magnanimity, nor did they confuse status with service to others.

This is the tradition that we are talking about. If we, as black businesspeople, cannot reclaim, recover and revive that, then we will lose the tradition of struggle that was given to us by those who came before us.

History will judge us harshly.

• Edgar S. I. Dhlomo is a Durban businessman and a long-serving executive member of Inyanda-KwaZulu-Natal National Federated Chamber of Commerce (Nafcoc).

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