Claiming little has changed in 23 years, Sam Motsuenyane is advocating black unity to effect real transformation
In the twilight of his life, Sam Motsuenyane (90) remains a frustrated man even as his contemporaries and protégés celebrate his decades of service to the country. BEE and its intended gain – transformation – have failed, he told City Press. Hours before, dozens of his friends, family and business allies had gathered at Sun City in North West for an event held to celebrate his lifelong contribution. The event was attended by distinguished South Africans such as mining magnate Patrice Motsepe and former Constitutional Court deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, among others.
“Over the past 20 years, there is not much to be grateful for,” said Motsuenyane, a self-made entrepreneur and struggle activist.
“We have higher unemployment and increasing poverty. Something is wrong.”
President Jacob Zuma’s government has faced renewed calls for what the ANC Youth League terms “radical transformation”, 23 years after it came to power on promises of “a better life for all”.
It was hoped that by now, South Africa would have shed its notoriety as the country with the world’s worst income inequality gap.
Yet, after more than a decade of BEE programmes, little has changed and too few black people have been brought into the mainstream economy.
Last week, the presidency announced that this year’s state of the nation address (Sona) – which Zuma will deliver on Thursday at 7pm – would “reflect strongly on radical socioeconomic transformation” and discuss ways of reigniting economic growth.
The theme for Sona 2017 is The Year of Oliver Reginald Tambo: Unity in Action. Together Moving South Africa Forward.
This tribute is apt as it commemorates the centenary year of Tambo’s birth while celebrating his 50-plus years of political activism in the ANC. Motsuenyane recalls Tambo for another reason. In 1986, he and a delegation from the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Nafcoc) travelled to Lusaka in Zambia, then the headquarters of the ANC in exile.
The meeting centred on transformation, but the ANC appeared to have paid little attention to what was discussed then and was now saddled with the same problem, Motsuenyane said.
“We talked transformation with Oliver Tambo. We discussed with the ANC the shape of the economy in the future. We agreed for certain transformations to be done. At the time, it was just a vision.
“But since [the party] came back, it has not had sufficient consultation with black business, and especially not with Nafcoc.”
Motsuenyane said in 1986, the agreement called on the white-dominated private sector to open opportunities for black-owned business in the mainstream economy.
“Our vision was far in advance of anything they had looked at before,” said Motsuenyane, recalling how the Financial Mail, which reported on the meeting, had called this vision “a pipe dream”.
Motsuenyane traces his start in business to the 1960s, when he and his colleagues established black informal trader organisations, which united to form the National African Chamber of Commerce (Nacoc) in 1964. Its aim was to take on the apartheid state.
In reaction to the regime’s hostility, Nacoc was renamed Nafcoc in 1968, becoming an umbrella organisation which was recognised according to regions. Its goals were to promote cooperation among black businesses and encourage self-help.
Motsuenyane was elected Nafcoc president, a position he held for 24 years. He is credited for mobilising the capital that led to the establishment of African Bank in 1975 – in so doing, realising Nafcoc’s dream of creating a bank for black people. He is also lauded for having mentored some of the country’s best black business leaders and advancing black business issues through the darkest days of apartheid.
“We survived by challenging the system, but not enough of us came to the fore because of it,” he said.
“We need real transformation, encompassing more of our people.”
Motsepe, whose foundation sponsored the Sun City event to honour Motsuenyane, told the gathering that to black business, Motsuenyane was what Nelson Mandela had meant to South Africa. “There is none like him,” he said. Moseneke called Motsuenyane “a good man” whose morals and integrity were sorely needed in South Africa. “He is a great, dedicated and visionary leader.” The former diplomat, parliamentarian and community builder laments the problems that continue to impede the growth of black business, including inadequate funding and prohibitive regulations and the lack of title deeds for people who own property in rural areas.
“In the rural areas most of our people have no title deeds. This does not help them acquire sufficient security for the banks. We have to change that.”
The emergence of foreign businesses in the townships was a problem requiring state intervention to ensure everyone in the country came through legal channels, he added.
But what concerned Motsuenyane most was the lack of unity in engaging government to advance black causes. “We are divided. It is important to bring these groups together to find a solution. There has to be a lot of dialogue – not only between black people, but also with government. Maybe BEE is not the best formula for transforming business. We need to move the majority of the people to economic dominance.”
THE LEADER Motsuenyane poses with a delegation from Nafcoc, which he headed for 24 years, in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia
THE POLITICAN Motsuenyane has a chat with President Jacob Zuma