Sometime in the last week or so I remember having a really intense conversation with my elder brother Muzorewa (that’s right Muzorewa and Mugabe for those who know their African politics) which took an interesting twist and led to some interesting conclusions (or maybe not).
My brother being a businessman and entrepreneur amongst many other things was expressing to me the frustration he is having in trying to launch a new business in Pretoria, South Africa. Due to the incompetence and indifference of Council officials in Pretoria he is finding it more complicated than it should be to get this business going, and whilst we were discussing all this I remember him turning to me and saying, “why is it that most of the things that are run by us black people are characterised by mediocrity, inferiors quality and substandardness?”
We ended up (in typical Ratshikuni brother fashion) having a conversation about this into the wee hours of the morning and ended up not having really answered the question (can anyone really answer it?) but realising that this is a key question that needs to be addressed if Africa is ever going to experience the turnaround that most of us to desire to see in our lifetime.
Over the next few days I asked this question to a few friends and I was accused of: self-hatred, being an “afro-pessimist”, having bought into western propaganda and having an inferiority complex. Now I consider myself a confident chap who takes a step-back for no one so to be accused of being all these things for simple asking this question was simply astounding to me. I believe that those who have the welfare of the continent of Africa at heart need to honestly allow this question to be discussed in an open, honest and heartfelt manner without becoming overly emotive and defensive. If the black man and Africa as a continent by default) is going to experience a turnaround in his fortunes in our century then he needs to develop the art of being brutally honest with himself.
Let me just state categorically that I don’t for one moment believe the black man (the African by default) is inherently inferior and incompetent when compared to the white man but I find it astounding that in all parts of the world most of the things that are owned, run or controlled by black people are characterised by mediocrity and inferiority. Surely we as black people need to look into this and see what has gone wrong so we don’t make the same mistakes going forward? Now I know that bringing all this up will only cause me to be labelled and ridiculed (a favourite African past-time) but I honestly don’t see how we can keep from making the same mistakes as happened in the past when we are not capable of being brutally honest with ourselves. Why is it that most things that are owned and controlled by black people are so mediocre? How do we break out of this cycle of mediocrity and become a winning people? It may not be politically correct to ask these questions but for the sake of the future of the continent we need to. Some will typically blame the colonialists, the white man and everyone else for this mediocrity but at some stage we need to stop passing the buck and look at ourselves honestly. Why are all our organisations such as the AU so mediocre and substandard? Why are countries that are run by black people often the poorest and most impoverished?
I believe an honest conversation about this issue will take us forward much quicker as a continent than all the blame-shifting and excuse-making that often characterise our discourse on the continent. Do I hate myself? Absolutely not! Do I have an inferiority complex about being black and being African? Oh hell no! (In fact I have often been accused of being proud and arrogant). I am however honest to a fault. I believe that change can never come unless brutal truth is embraced. Black man, why is it that so much of your work is characterised by mediocrity? Where did it all go wrong? Are we as black people inherently inferior? Of course not, but somewhere along the line something has gone wrong and serious changes need to be made if we are going to get different results in the twenty first century. Can we have this conversation?