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.
- Time for Africans to Explore Africa
- The Other Side of Africa: Healthcare