Success doesn’t come cheap
‘Everybody, shh!” Word spread like thunderless lightning throughout the house. “The liquor squad is outside!” someone exclaimed, and that was enough to silence the throngs of people packed inside. The alcohol that was in the brains of the patrons evaporated like water in the Karoo, and sobriety reigned again.
The “liquor squad” was an “elite” police unit that specialised in finding illegal shebeens, and had the power to arrest anyone inside the house and confiscate all the alcohol. In public, the police claimed they spilt it down the drain, but the public believed they spilt it down their throats.
“Shh!” the call continued. It was a stokvel and the police wanted a liquor licence, which no one had bothered to get because the officials never bothered to issue it, even if you applied.
The police captain came into the house while the rest of his men stood outside. He was a big, tall Afrikaner and he pretended that he’d come in to inspect the liquor licence. Instead, he took his money and walked away. In the world I grew up in, nothing was cheaper and more corruptible than a white policeman. They demanded brandy, Coke and cash, in that order.
There I was, 12 years old or so, deep in the night, working, learning about business, but sadly seeing the nocturnal ways that would become the foundation of the “new South Africa”.
The music from jazz fusion group Weather Report played from the turntable. The group got that name because it was unstable, due to the musicians coming and going like clouds.
Musicians are the original entrepreneurs. You have to be good to get a gig, and better to keep it. The result is immediate, but success never comes overnight. One-man bands do not work so well, so you have to assemble a band, and once you’ve played, you have to beg the owner of the joint to pay you the agreed amount.
No one described this more eloquently than Abbey Lincoln in her song You Gotta Pay The Band.
The same is true in business. First, you need to be exceptional to succeed. You have to be able to deal with rejection. You must have the resilience to collect your money, and have the patience to succeed.
There are many musicians who will never be famous, but will get on by playing at weddings and nightclubs. Most will never record.
Likewise, there are many businesses that will never be known. They will pay the bills and send their children to school, but they will never make the front pages of business journals. Yet these businesses do a great job, which is often underrated. They help society by employing a few people, and they are also the training ground for the children of founders.
The generation before us has equipped us with all the necessary tools for success. Our problem is that our society has lowered its expectations. We have stopped expecting the best from our kids. We have given them all sorts of excuses why they shouldn’t succeed. We have also allowed racists to distract us because, in a warped kind of way, we expect those who hate us to help us. We wish they could have a change of heart and love us. How do we expect others to love us when we don’t love ourselves? When we still use skin lighteners and weaves to look like them? How can we expect them to respect us when we hardly respect ourselves?
Weather Report finally dissipated when the founders, Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter, split up to pursue solo projects. Zawinul started what he called the Zawinul Syndicate. In his first album, The Immigrants, he put new lyrics to his old composition Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, which he had written for another jazz great, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley.
On that track, Zawinul speaks to himself and us through the vocals of Lynne Fiddmont. “I’m not one to judge what anybody does,” he says, “but drowning in despair won’t get you anywhere.”
He was not writing this from a perch of privilege, but from the dungeon of hurt and hatred that he had experienced as a descendant of Hungarian gypsies.
“I don’t need mercy,” he says to himself, “to get me through my life.”
We need to tell ourselves as the black community that we don’t need mercy from white people to get through our lives. We must look internally, use our social ladder of success again, and force our children to climb it.
In the earlier generations, a child was expected to stay at school and get better educated than his or her parents. If he was the youngest, he was expected to be the most educated among his siblings, and the whole family assisted in that regard.
That is how society’s upward mobility is achieved. In other words, if as a parent you are more educated than your children, then you have failed miserably in your duty. As a parent, you cannot give up on the education of your children, because your offspring must have a better quality of life than you.
There can be no excuses, because our problems are not unique. Yes, white people have unleashed inexplicable inhumanity on people they perceive to be different.
Zawinul agrees: “Troubles everywhere, pressure fills the air”, but he also reminds us that at the end of it all, the road is for us to choose, whether we win or lose.
“With every challenge that life brings, I’ll sing no mercy for me,” Fiddmont sings to herself. Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive,
an advertising agency