It has been said that “when you educate a man you empower a man, but when you educate a black man you empower a village”.
In the midst of many arrests of public officials by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks), I found myself feeling defensive as a young black person. This is because I also wanted to see the arrests of those white suspects who have been involved in corporate scandals. On the surface it appeared that the Hawks were only targeting black suspects, while we all know that there has been as much corruption and moral decay in the white male-dominated private sector as there has been in the public sector that is predominantly run by black administrators.
The danger about my statement is that it can be misinterpreted as saying that corruption in the private sector by white people gives a licence to black public officials to be corrupt. The intent is not to give permission for black people and black public servants to be corrupt. Nothing can ever excuse stealing money which is meant to service the poorest of the poor. Stealing from our own makes us worse then our colonisers and leaves our mind-sets less transformed than our white counterparts’.
It is no lie that there is a false perception that all black leaders got to where they are because of connections and they had a free pass because of the colour of their skin, while white leaders got their positions through merit and are competent. The perception is, of course, entirely flawed, to say the least, but as black people we have to realise that every time a black leader is corrupt they validate the perception that black leaders are not competent.
Corruption can never be falsely attached to race, breed or class. It is simply a symptom of a capitalism. Capitalism is a cruel, flawed and corrupt system which breeds poverty and inequality, and turns human souls into commodities that have a price.
The roots of capitalism are not in Africa but, astonishingly, despite the failure of capitalism, many African leaders continue to adopt neoliberalism that produces capitalist states. Unfortunately a lot of the black leaders in business and politics have found themselves entangled in this system where everyone is for sale, and have unduly benefited from it.
Yet, as flawed as the system is, there is still no excuse for any powerful black person’s contribution to creating more poverty through corruption, instead of using their power to work towards eliminating poverty and creating a more equal society.
The arrests by the Hawks of many public servants and others involved in corruption have been progressive. As a country, we should see it as a victory when people are held accountable. But the victory is incomplete if we see no one being held accountable for corporate scandals, such as that of Steinhoff in 2017 and the fixing of the rand by major banks, to name but a few.
The aim is not to play black and white leadership against each other or to take shots on which race is more corrupt then the other. Rather, the aim is to clear the perception that white leaders are competent while black leaders are corrupt.
Ekurhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina has made a call via social media for black people to stand united against what he sees as racially targeted arrests. As someone who considers herself to be pro-black through and through, I would like to heed the mayor’s call but I can only defend patriotic black business owners. I can only support and defend black people who, once they have risen, have helped others of their kind; I support black people who have empowered many others in their communities.
I have long given up on the idea that every dark-skinned person is transformed. In fact, through years of exposure, I have found many of our brothers and sisters in leadership positions being so excited about being the only ones surrounded by white colleagues that they fail to transform the organisations they lead.
Twenty-six years into democracy, the face of poverty is still black and our economy is still not transformed. The visible foe has been the white males who own 70% of the economy. But there is also an invisible foe – the black elite. This sector comprises a black government which continues to sing slogans of transformation while doing business with untransformed white-owned businesses. The other part of the black elite is black businessmen connected to the ruling party.
We need to introspect as black citizens and find ways of producing honourable black men and women who will run businesses honourably, lead with integrity and empower other black people in a system that promotes greed, corruption and an individualistic approach to life.
Mhlungu is a member of the Unemployed People’s Movement in Makhanda and a young entrepreneur