Members-only clubs have always provided a private, privileged domain for conducting business and fostering social networks. At best, they are a mutually supportive space for those of similar interests and experiences. Bonds are formed and information shared in relaxed, convivial and discrete settings. At worst, many clubs have a horrible history of exclusion along race, gender and religious lines.
Overt intolerance is (mostly) a thing of the past, but exclusion and asymmetrical advantage for the elite is very much part of the package. Let’s face it, even today, few clubs admit the poor, unless they are dressed as waiters or cleaners.
The problems of prejudice notwithstanding, club membership is one of the most effective ways to climb the ladder of success – especially in Africa. Ours is not a stagnant elite. Virtually all African economies show promising growth, which translates into space for talent and tenacity to rise. Clubs facilitate the connections necessary for upward mobility. They also serve as status shorthand for those with more ambition than time.
Membership indicates that an individual has made it through a vetting process to distinguish the “us” from the “not us”.
Colonial clubs can have a retrochic charm, but they are not where the power and potential of modern Africa meets and makes decisions. Nairobi’s Muthaiga Country Club (founded in 1913) and Johannesburg’s (temporarily closed) Rand Club (established in 1886), and many others, belong to a bygone era. Members are now multiracial, but they are predominantly old guard and old money. Many are just plain old.
Earlier elites are not all in decline – the Monrovia Masonic Grand Lodge (founded 1867) has recently reasserted itself as a major social, economic and political force in Liberian life, but the winds of change are generally blowing through African club land. Colonial/postindependence cronyism and inherited wealth are gradually giving way to more meritocratic, predominantly technology-led, business-born elites. What follows is the #Trending guide to the coolest
contemporary clubs on our continent:
7b Etim Inyang Crescent, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria Patrick Koshoni’s club offers open exhibition space, a members-only lounge library and an alfresco bar. African art is set amid mid-century leather armchairs, shelves of highbrow literature and flatteringly soft lighting.
Koshoni’s aim is to “facilitate the social intercourse of persons connected with or interested in arts, science, design and social justice. We provide stimulus for new thinking and social re-engineering by offering a meeting point to discuss issues.”
Vintage Nigerian Highlife music and jazz is played at conversation-enabling volumes, while cellphone and laptop use is permitted only until 7pm. Even then, cellphones must always be on silent. All aspirant members (known as patrons in club lingo) must be proposed by an existing affiliate and considered by an advisory board, which meets monthly. An annual subscription of 200 000 naira (R15 900) is payable upon acceptance.
Koshoni says: “We do not have a dress code, but we expect that patrons will dress as they mean to be addressed.” Judging by the plethora of fine tailoring on show, patrons mean to be addressed as superstylish, Afro-positive, world citizens with Paul Smith and Louboutin addiction issues.
Capital Club East Africa
Imperial Court, Westlands, Nairobi, Kenya Entrepreneurship is always the order of the day at the first African chapter of the Capital Club, an invitation-only business club with branches in Bahrain and Dubai. The club is close to several international banks and Kenya’s ever-expanding stock exchange. Capital’s dress code is casual and phones are actively encouraged. There are nine videoconference rooms and free Wi-Fi. A chauffeur service ensures a safe drive home after an evening out at the one of the three restaurants or on the roof terrace bar (which keeps every malt known to man and then some).
A committee tasked with “protecting the integrity and calibre of membership” is in place to help with nominating and approving applicants. Among those who made the cut are Robert Collymore, the CEO of Safaricom; Japh Olende, the managing director of AIG; and Kenyan-American digital technology strategist Isis Nyong’o Madison, who is listed as one of Africa’s Top 20 Youngest Power Women by Forbes.
With fees of about 210 000 shillings a year (R33 000), Kenya’s crème de la crème is guaranteed.
Virgin Active Classic
Alice Lane, Sandton, Joburg In recent years, business networking has shifted from golf courses to treadmills. Virgin Active Classic occupies a prime Sandton location. It is within walking distance of the headquarters of financial and business big shots such as Nedbank, Investec and RMB, and the parking lot is always full of the latest luxury German sedans.
The former Reserve Bank governors, media moguls and children of politicians working out on the state-of-the-art equipment aren’t just there to get fit; they are also working on their business bottom lines. Sweatworking (networking at the gym) is everywhere. Friendships formed during anti-gravity yoga classes and in the aqua lounge can be shaped into profitable partnerships in the adjacent conference rooms and networking nooks. Members can send emails while they spin, and skype to their heart’s content.
Capped membership and high fees (R1 800 a month) ensure exclusivity.
Voices at the Taj
Taj Hotel, Wale Street, Cape Town There was a time when many clubs excluded women. Few such establishments still reject the fairer sex, but why bother with the boys? Women are starting to create their own exclusive spaces away from the male gaze.
Newly launched Voices at the Taj provides a vetted, invitation-only private members platform that, according to founder member music/media entrepreneur Catherine Grenfell, “allows some of the most respected minds in female entrepreneurship to network, debate, collaborate, socialise and empower each other within a sorority of power females”.
An initial membership fee of R795, plus a variable monthly levy (depending on the extent of access to the sisterhood of the travelling platinum card), entitles members to coworking space in the Taj Exec Club Business Lounge, hi-speed internet access, dedicated-members concierge, gym and female-only sauna areas. PR and media support, vetted vendors and regularly hosted speaker lunches, cocktail events and supper clubs are also part of the package.
Various venues around the world Homer Simpson once asked: “Why won’t those stupid idiots let me into their crappy club for jerks?”
Several African central bank governors and heads of state feel that way about the G20. The ultimate private members club holds annual gatherings replete with superb networking opportunities. The dress code is formal.
Seemingly closed to new members, only one African economy, South Africa, has been invited to join the club in an individual country capacity, but this hardly seems adequate.
Both Nigeria and Egypt have larger economies, and are arguably more strategically significant to global financial stability than several of the smaller G20 members.
While there is no clear application route or expulsion procedure, it is surely time for Argentina to do the honourable thing and step aside.
THE NEW GOLDEN ERA