Forty years ago, Reverend Jesse Jackson had to face the apartheid police and explain his business in South Africa.
Today, the acclaimed civil rights activist is visiting a very different country. But although freedom may have been achieved on paper, economic apartheid still exists.
“We have won the battle of race apartheid now we must fight the resource apartheid. We have democratised politics now we must democratise resources,” said Jackson, who was taking part in a discussion hosted by the Businesswomen’s Association in Sandton on Tuesday.
Central to this was how economic freedom and reparations relate to businesswomen.
Before an introduction of the main speakers was made, the audience observed a moment of silence for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
Madikizela-Mandela’s name was brought up throughout the event by the different speakers, her legacy being made a reference point as a symbol of resilience in the face of injustice.
Jackson, who was the guest of honour for the evening together with civil rights activist Dr Delois Blakely, who is known as the Queen mother of Harlem, recalled memories from when he visited South Africa 40 years ago, when he had to face apartheid police officers and often had to explain his business in the country.
In what he referred to as dark times he said: “The light in darkness was Winnie Mandela.”
Jackson is known to have worked with Martin Luther King Jr and has supported political issues in many countries, including South Africa’s fight against the apartheid regime.
Blakely, who joined the discussion later, emphasised the importance of reparations to previously oppressed people.
“When are we going to negotiate reparations for the African descendants?” she asked rhetorically. “And that’s the conversation on the table.”
“There [are] many concerns and issues of African descendants and one is the returning home, coming home, the transformation feeling, the DNA,” said Blakely as she encouraged the audience to take charge of their destiny.
“As a businesswoman what stood out for me was [the] reverend’s emphasis on mindsets and getting the formulas right, challenging the status quo and being courageous,” said Wendy Klein, an audience member who participated in the discussion.
Klein shared her experiences of her three-year-old construction and plant hiring company. She highlighted the importance of economic freedom for her.
“[Economic freedom] is of paramount importance. Khoi and San women were one half of the first frontier facing the violent injustices of colonisers at the Cape.
“I am a proud descendant of southern Africa’s First Nation and achieving economic freedom in South Africa is as much about correcting the ills of the past as it is about correcting the challenges our people still face today,” she said.
When the floor was opened for questions Klein gave an emotional account of some of the struggles she has had to face while building her career as an entrepreneur.
When approached by BEE non-complying companies, she has had to discern between effective transformation and fronting.
“As a young entrepreneur in South Africa you cannot make it on your own,” as she shared some tough lessons she had to learn.
She added: “Economic freedom and land ownership go hand in hand. So hopefully you can now see why I’m driven, motivated and passionate about achieving economic freedom as a Khoisan woman.”