Black business has failed us

A couple of weeks ago I was at the local Irish Pub enjoying a few rounds of Namibia’s finest export. I ended up in an intense conversation with two of the pub regulars who happened to be sitting with me. The one is a hotshot executive in one of South Africa’s biggest banking groups and the other is a successful businessman. As is often the case when you have conversations with black South Africans who are in the corporate sector or are running their own business, we started off talking about the lack of transformation amongst South African corporates, with both of them sharing stories of ridiculous window-dressing by corporates in order to appear to be transforming whereas the actual reality is that nothing much has changed after almost two decades of black majority rule. Whilst these sentiments were not new to me as I hear them in almost every conversation I have with black corporates, there was a sentiment expressed by one of these guys that deviated from the status quo and piqued my interest.  This was the sentiment that “black business has failed the people of South Africa.” It all began with a critique of black organisations like the Black Management Forum (BMF), which was accused of being nothing more than a tool for certain black corporates to position themselves for key positions within the South African corporate sector and once this has been achieved those individuals then forget about the issues that affect the rest of black South Africa. He contrasted this with organisations like Afriforum, die Afrikaans Handels Instituut etc which are clear in their promotion of the interests of Afrikaner people and their culture and not just certain individuals within that people group as we see in black organisations like the BMF. The conversation then moved on to the issue of the failure of successful black business people to invest in black communities: to help build infrastructure, deliver quality education and improve services. The issue raised was that we are not seeing black business people adopting for example one or two poorly performing schools in the townships or in the rural areas, paying highly qualified and skilled teachers to go and teach in these schools, building sports facilities and other infrastructure that is necessary to enhance the learning experience and improving the governance and administration of these schools in order to ensure better overall results.  What we are seeing instead is black business people aggressively chasing profits and wealth at whatever cost without contributing as much as they could to address the developmental needs of the country. In fact a lot of the time we see the self-same business people pushing for government to enforce employment equity and affirmative action legislation because it benefits them and their narrow sectional interests, without in anyway contributing to improving the lot of the impoverished black majority. Contrast this with Afrikaner business people and the contribution they made to the development of Afrikaner people once the National Party had taken over the running of the country in 1948. Contrary to popular opinion there is actually nothing wrong with prominent black business people using their political connections to grow their businesses and improve their profits. This is exactly how great Afrikaner entrepreneurs like Anton Rupert emerged and became extremely wealthy, however the significant difference has been that they invested in education, cultural initiatives etc that contributed to the development of their people, whilst using the state and their connections to the National Party to build their wealth, whereas we are not seeing the same level of commitment from black business in contemporary South Africa. Even in contemporary times Afrikaner business people like Johan Rupert, Christo Wiese, the Wessels family (Toyota SA), Laurie Dippenaar and G.T Ferreira (First Rand group) etc still contribute significantly to cultural and educational initiatives that contribute to the development of Afrikaner people and this is something that they prioritise and value, but we are not seeing the same kind of commitment from black business to the impoverished black majority in South Africa. Whilst this may seem to be completely harsh on black business people it is a historical fact that society is reliant on the contribution of its more affluent citizens in order to progress and develop. In the United States of America, we find that many of the great entrepreneurs who contributed greatly to the country’s economic success where aware of this reality and hence embraced their responsibility to society. Great entrepreneurs like John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius van der Bilt, Andrew Carnegie, J.P Morgan etc are remembered not just for the wealth they accumulated but for their contribution to the development of American society in diverse fields. They contributed to enhancing American education by building universities and schools, building libraries and cultural centres (or at least funding them), setting up bursary and endowment schemes, they preserved and promoted America’s diverse and rich cultural heritage by being patrons of the arts etc. These are the kinds of contributions that we saw and still see from Afrikaner business people towards the development of their people and hence the Afrikaner people have progressed immensely over the last hundred years but sadly this is sorely lacking when it comes to black business and its commitment to black people. No less a ruthless businessman and capitalist than John D. Rockefeller (probably the greatest businessman that has ever lived) said that, “if I have no other achievement to my credit than the accumulation of wealth, then I have made a poor success of my life.” This is a lesson that black business people and corporates need to learn. Too often all black business people are concerned about is their own enrichment, even if it comes at the expense of the rest of society. We need to start demanding more from black business. What contribution is black business making to the improvement of education in our country for example? How much is black business investing in impoverished black communities so we can see more development? What is black business doing to try and help address the housing backlog in our country? What infrastructure is black business building in poor black communities in order to improve quality of life for the average black South African and create better conditions for the success of our people? These are all questions that need to be posed to black business in South Africa. Black business is often very quick to run to government to ask it to enact and enforce legislation that will ensure transformation, greater equity and increased ownership for black people in the economy but we need to ask ourselves: of what benefit has this been to the impoverished majority really? Black business needs to learn from Afrikaner business which from the early days of the Nats, used its government connections to increase its profits but in turn invested in the Afrikaner people and hence we see the tremendous development of the Afrikaner nation. Black business needs to heed the words of another great American entrepreneur, Harvey Firestone (Firestone Rubber), “a man who isn’t willing to share his success with others won’t have much success to put in his own pocket.” Black business needs to share its success with the majority of impoverished black South Africans by investing in black communities and helping to improve the quality of education that young black people are receiving in impoverished communities.
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Mugabe Ratshikuni

introverted, shy, nothing to write home about

7 thoughts on “Black business has failed us

  • October 7, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Just wanted to say HI. I found your blog a few days ago on Technorati and have been reading it over the past few days.

  • October 8, 2010 at 7:28 am

    Hi Henery.Glad you found us and are reading some of our material.Hopefully you keep coming back for more.Kind regards

  • October 8, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    I like your article, cuts right to the point. Interesting how you juxtapose Black businessmen and Afrikaner businessmen. Something to think about. Every time I have gone on a rant about how Black businessmen don’t give back, one lone voice of wisdom in the wilderness has continually said the same thing to me. “Make your first million and give it away before you speak about how others are not giving theirs away.”

    The lesson there, these kinds of opinions generally carry more weight when they are coming from people who have done what they are preaching. We do not know the real situations that Black businessmen find themselves in, at least we do not know enough to make this kind of judgement on them. We do not know the debt/equity ratios of their businesses, the profit levels, the number of dependents on their incomes, we don’t even know what their true incomes are to be honest. There is this wonderful little thing that the world has come up with that can make people look like more than what they really are. It’s called debt or credit. Not everything is as it seems.

    Having said all of that, what you speak about is definitely something worth aspiring towards as a generation. Let’s ensure that the businesspeople amongst us bear in mind the fact that success can only be enjoyed with others and always remember to give back to those who carried us to the top.

  • October 8, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    My president

    I do agree with you that these kinds of opinions carry more weight when they are comign from people who have done what they are preaching (as long as you are not advocating the view that the only person who can comment or contribute on an issue is a person that has been directly involved in that issue because if that is what you are saying then most of us would have nothing to say on many issues), however if you look at the context of my article it will become obvious to you that I am just relaying a pub conversation that I was privvy to, between two very succesful people who are doing the exact thing that they are saying that most black business people don’t do.

    Secondly to look at the personl experience of a person espousing a particular argument or point of view as a qualifying factor for determining whether to consider their point of view as valid, is to commit the philsophical fallacy of arguing ad hominem (which I am not implying you are doing just highlighting teh dangers that lie in the statement you made above). Every argument needs to be gauged on its merit, irrespective of the particular vehicle espousing it.

    I do agree that there are certain factors which need to be considered before we just lay into black business people for not contributing enough as you rightly point out, however when I compare the contribution of black business to the development of our people to the contributioj made by Afrikaner businessmen to the development of the Afrikaner nation (even whilst they were building their wealth with the help of the Nat govenment) I think we are unfortunately falling short and can do so much better.
    For me it is not even just about “giving back”, it is more of a mutually benefitial partnership. Let back business benefit from their cosy relations with the state (as Afriknaer business did under the Nats) but then from those benefits let black business contribute more significantly to addressing the developmental needs of the black populace just as Afrikaner business did in the old days and still does today with the vast wealth it amassed under Nat rule.
    So in principle I think we agree chief. As always I enjoy sharing opinions with you (albeit heatedly at times, lol) and engaging at every level.


  • October 9, 2010 at 8:09 am

    I am not at all saying that we cannot comment if we have not done it, I am saying that if we are going to comment before we have done, we ought to consider everything there is possible to consider before we do comment.

    I think an obviuos challeneg for instance that we tend to overlook when we are juxtaposing Black business to Afrikaner business is the extent of the benefit that Afrikaner business got from the Nats vs. what Black business is getting from the current government. The Nats gave EVERYTHING to the Afrikaner businessmen, the Black businessmen in South Africa today get a very small share of the business pie from government – it’s even smaller in absolute terms than what the Afrikaner businessmen were getting back in the dark days of SA. This should speak directly into the kind of impact that they can make given that the are getting a lot less money. Sanlam, FNB, Volkskas bank, Sasol, Old mutual, Rembrandt, etc. All these built on Apartheid government subsidies. How many Black businesses of that scale can you name? None! The extent of the influence of Black business in our community must be compared to the size of Black businesee, otherwise we are simply asking of them what is unfair and probably improbable.

  • October 11, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Wow, this is deep. the sad thing is we are living in times where its “every man for himself”, sometimes people are forced not to care. How many black schools and libraries have been burned and vandalised by our “disadvantaged communities” whenever they strike? So do you want to tell me that a wealthy black business man will want to invest in people who dont give a damn? I dont think so. How many white schools have been vandalised by the white people? I have never heard of such.

    At the end of the day,You cant feed the whole world but if you can take 5 or more kids to university, help some one start their own business, teach the homeless how to feed themselves and give them a start in life then you have “shared” your success.

    The wealthy man does not just give away his money or invests in things that he sees will not benefit him in anyway

  • October 11, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    Zoey I agree with one thing you said in particular, that if each one of us chose to take even children from poor homes through school all the way to varsity by the time we die we will have a made tangible difference for the world and our people in particular. I have always held this view and continue to do so today, and Mugabe knows about this. I believe that each one of those of us wh have been privileged enough to get a tertiary education that has allowed us to get jobs that pay salaries higher than R200 000 per anum should be taking at least one child outside of our families through school. It does not need to be a public affair that everyone knows about, something to be done with you and you partner (husband or wife) and the parents ofo the child/children whose fees you choose to pay.

    Fees in fairy good schools, the formerly whites only school mainly, are at most R20 000 per anum, most are substantially lower than that. If in your first year of work you were already earning more than R200 000 per anum, then you should be able to afford these fees easily for at least one child. If I achieve nothing else in life, I will educate at least one child and hopefully convince all my friends to do the same.

    Each One Teach One as the ANC YL says, just from a different point of view.


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