Guest Column

Calling on black professionals

2018-11-29 08:44
Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe. PHOTO: Drum Photographer Baileys Archives

Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe. PHOTO: Drum Photographer Baileys Archives

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We need to have responsible black professionals who will be proactive in using their resources to advocate for the betterment of black people, writes Mcebo Dlamini.

Drive through Parkhurst, Midrand and perhaps walk around Mandela Square in Sandton, Johannesburg and you will be greeted by a certain kind of black people. Some walking up and down in their dandy suits carrying cups of coffee. Some of them having sundowners – Champaign glasses tall and iPhones next to them. 

Others give coins through their car windows to beggars on the street. These people have become known as the black middle class or black professionals in South Africa. They mostly work in the corporate sector and government as lawyers, bankers, engineers, etc. 

Of course, this group of elite black people is not homogenous as one might think I am attempting to suggest. Throughout history black professionals have proven capable of acting as an important motivating force in our society. But I want to interrogate what ought to be the role of black professionals in the post-1994 dispensation.

I am not interested in giving a historical account of the origins and the progression of black professionals. I want to highlight that they have always been able to drive discourse and influence the ideas and energies of the black working class in our society, especially during the height of the apartheid era. 

There were undoubtedly many different factors that ignited the people's imagination to revolt and resist but black professionals were hugely influential. Most of the revered black leaders during apartheid were professionals. Robert Sobukwe was a lecturer, Nelson Mandela was a man of the law; the list is endless. 

There are perhaps many reasons for this but it was mostly because of access that they had to resources and institutions. This included access to information, financial resources and, sometimes, important institutions such as universities and schools. 

Today, they still have this access, and it is because of this that it is important to always guide and give context to what kind of black professionals will take our society forward. Lest we forget it is not yet Uhuru. 

The rainbow nation façade that was imposed on South Africans post-1994 deceived a lot of black people into believing that apartheid had ended and all South Africans were now equal regardless of whether they are black or white. This narrative was peddled by civil society groups and mass media.

It was not difficult for black people to buy into this narrative because the government was black, a few blacks were incorporated into the economy and blacks and whites were allowed to use the same swimming pools. This made it plausible that apartheid had ended and the freedom that had been fought for years had been finally attained.

Alas, it only took a few years for us to see that this was not the case. A majority of blacks still live in poverty and are still landless. The current political debates around land and race show that the vestiges of apartheid still remain. It is only a few black people who have been incorporated – black professionals, by and large. 

By virtue of being incorporated into the economy black professionals have become so comfortable with their fancy lifestyles and their posh apartments that they have forgotten that their reality is not the reality of the majority of South Africans. Most have become nothing other than proxies of white power. They have become comfortable with running the affairs of white people for meagre salaries and the BMWs that they still owe the bank for. The firms and companies that they work for are still owned by white people who continue to make super profits through black labour. 

Black professionals do not see the need to play a critical role in ensuring that black people are truly liberated. They are comfortable with being buffers whereas multitudes continue to live in squalor. They are used to pacify the many masses of our people that it is possible to be black and successful whereas structural conditions remain unchanged. This is what the prophetic scholar Frantz Fanon was warning us about in "The Pitfalls of National Consciousness".  

If we are to truly escape this poverty that continues almost three decades after the end of apartheid then we need to have conscious black professionals who are aware of the conditions of their fellow people. Not professionals who have relegated the entire responsibility of making our society better to politicians and the government.

We need to have responsible black professionals who will be proactive in using their resources to advocate for the betterment of black people. 

It is commendable that there are professionals who have already started building their institutions such as the Pan-African Bar Association. Those are exemplary black professionals whom we should all look upon and be inspired. 

There is a lot that needs to be done to ensure that the South Africa we live in is liberated, economically and socially. Black professionals have an important role to play and it is only when they are conscious of this that we can begin making progress. 

- Dlamini is a former Wits SRC leader and student activist. He writes in his personal capacity.

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Read more on:    equality  |  apartheid

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