Calls for action after black professional shared why she quit Cape Town for Jozi

Tinyiko Ngwenya
Tinyiko Ngwenya

Tinyiko Ngwenya, the investment professional whose personal essay on why she decided to give up her job in Cape Town to return to Johannesburg made headlines this week, is to be commended, the Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants of Southern Africa (ABASA) and the Black Management Forum (BMF) said on Thursday.

Statistics show that in the Western Cape only 3.4% of top management consists of African males and 1.2% of African females, compared to 9.7% and 5.4% in Gauteng and 10.7% and 4.6% in KwaZulu-Natal, according to Business Leadership SA. 

In the Western Cape 4.8% of senior management is African males and 2.8% African females, compared to 14.1% and 8.7% in Gauteng and 13.3% and 6.6% in KZN respectively.

Ngwenya wrote in a widely-shared opinion piece that she struggled with her identity in Cape Town, to the point where it started to affect her confidence.

"No matter how hard I worked, I never really felt good enough, and that inferiority complex was as a result of being a minority," she said in a piece originally published on LinkedIn.

"A minority, you laugh. It sounds ridiculous, but that’s exactly what I was. A minority in my own country, a minority in Africa. Wherever I was, I was the only African (read: black) person. I was the only African in my investment team, I was the only African in any given coffee shop, in any given wine farm. Bless my Cape Town friends, but none of them are black."

In the view of ABASA and the BMF, Ngwenya took a tremendously brave step also on behalf of other young black professionals living and working in Cape Town.

"We view her letter as articulating the view of most, if not all, black professionals in Cape Town. Her struggles are the main reason why many black professionals leave for Johannesburg and has caused the massive 'black brain drain' experienced in the Western Cape," ABASA and the BMF said in their joint statement.

Fight more relevant

"As black professionals in the Western Cape, we share in her sentiments and as organisations formed to promote black managerial leadership and socio-economic transformation, our fight becomes more relevant and crucial in building a Western Cape that is both inclusive and conducive for black professionals in the province."

The solutions necessary to address the problem require broader dialogue on the underlying foundational issues that exist in society, according to ABASA and the BMF's joint statement.

"We need to receive this article (by Ngwenya) as a renewed call to action, both as a collective body of black professionals within Cape Town, as well as in our individual pockets of representation," they said.

"We need to be reminded that lifting the generations after us as we climb, is not a choice but a responsibility for each of us, given this perpetuating state of disparity within Cape Town – otherwise we are in turn part of the problem, rather than transformative progress."

They said South Africa has recently been ranked by the World Bank as the most unequal country in the world, out of 149 countries. It was found that the top 1% of South Africans own 70.9% of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 60% only controls 7% of the country’s assets.

Johannesburg soon too concentrated?

"Logic also tells us that Johannesburg will soon become too concentrated for a fair sharing of wealth, given the 'black brain drain', while Cape Town continues to dilute black professionals out of its economic system," said ABASA and the BMF.
"In a province where 49.6% of the population is coloured, 33.4% is African and 16% is white, while the private sector is still made up of predominantly white people, it is no secret that transformation in the private sector remains a challenge. We need to collectively take a stand to change the status quo, one conversation at a time."

The BMF Western Cape, in conjunction with other transformation bodies, wants to create a platform and drive issues that affect black professionals in the province.

"We are determined to drive change through dialogue, failure (sic) which, we will be compelled to find legal recourse via courts of law for our members who continue to be exploited and discriminated against in their work places in Cape Town," they said.

Bonang Mohale, CEO of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), said on Thursday that, as part of its strategy, BLSA has committed itself to advancing growth and transformation and through its "contract with South Africa" has undertaken to support black leadership.

"In line with these commitments BLSA can confirm that it has begun conversations, some informal, with some of its members about the attraction and retention of black African professionals in the Western Cape. These conversations will be elevated and formalised in the months ahead," he said.

"Given the world class universities that it hosts, there is no reason why the province should not retain the multitude of African graduates and professionals that it helps produce. We need to better understand the environment and assess whether anything needs to be changed or improved to make it receptive to African professionals."

At the launch of BLSA branches in Cape Town and Stellenbosch earlier this year, he also emphasised that addressing the issue of black talent in the province would be one of the goals of these branches.

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