Toxic to the core

Our ex­ecs pre­fer work­ers to be dumb, de­pen­dent and dis­pos­able

Finweek English Edition - - Openers - BY LE­HUTSO MPHAHLELE

DEAR MR MUL­HOL­LAND, let me start by stat­ing that, as a young black man, I re­alise I’m prob­a­bly not your mag­a­zine’s tar­get de­mo­graphic, and recog­nise that the “manne” prob­a­bly get a great kick dis­cussing how well you stick it to the ANC each week, and that I doubt that this let­ter will ever see the light of day. Al­though the poi­sonous bile that passes for your idea of jour­nal­ism, es­pe­cially that of 29 March, re­ally does scrape the bot­tom of the bar­rel, I’m sure you’ll be back again next week to outdo your­self. It’s ironic, though, that, in seek­ing to point out Thabo Mbeki’s nu­mer­ous de­fi­cien­cies and in­se­cu­ri­ties, you se­lected FDR as your touch­stone – the same FDR un­der whose ad­min­is­tra­tion lynch-mobs were hav­ing a field day bru­tal­is­ing Black peo­ple, while his med­i­cal com­mu­nity con­ducted eu­genic ex­per­i­ments that would have made Josef Men­gele proud. And while he was giv­ing the or­der to sus­pend habeas cor­pus and frog-march thou­sands of Ja­panese-Amer­i­cans into se­cret gu­lags, he was ser­e­nad­ing the pop­u­lace with the sweet, sooth­ing bari­tone of his fire­side chats. I think, Mr Mul­hol­land, you ought to be care­ful what you wish for...

If you had lis­tened, you would have re­alised that all Mbeki had been try­ing to say was that we can do bet­ter. Strong lead­ers chal­lenge their peo­ple to do bet­ter. Smart peo­ple step up to the plate and de­liver. Medi­ocre peo­ple dumb down de­bate by re­sort­ing to per­sonal at­tacks and inani­ties. Win­ners don’t settle for the low­est com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor, and losers who can­not cope with the re­al­i­ties of a glob­alised world and the ne­ces­sity of com­pet­i­tive­ness cop out with smoke and mir­rors. I won­der which cat­e­gory you place your­self in, Mr Mul­hol­land. Is the mol­ly­cod­dled mas­ter race re­ally so in­se­cure that they con­stantly need to be pat­ted on the head and told just how won­der­ful they are and that we won’t be com­ing to mur­der them in the night? Whose mommy didn’t hug whom, I won­der? You seem to think that the White com­mu­nity in this coun­try de­serves a medal for even­tu­ally com­ing to the re­al­i­sa­tion that apartheid was a cul-de-sac crime against hu­man­ity that bankrupted a coun­try with the world’s largest gold de­posits at a time when one could prac­ti­cally dig the stuff out with a shovel and sell it at $800 an ounce. I’m sorry, but I thought your read­ers were adults. FW de Klerk, an­other of your he­roes, didn’t sud­denly wake up one day with a deep sense of broth­erly love for Black peo­ple ...the guy woke up with a deep sense of empty gov­ern­ment cof­fers and no over­draft and had to cut his losses.

Any­one with a smidgeon of intelligence will draw a di­rect cor­re­la­tion be­tween the lev­els of vi­o­lent crime in this coun­try and the fact that up to 75% of black youth can be clas­si­fied as un­em­ployed/un­der­em­ployed. I, for one, haven’t heard of too many mid­dleaged women run­ning around with semi­au­to­mat­ics, but I could be wrong. Nelson Man­dela’s and my par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion made a good-faith at­tempt at rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in the Nineties. The busi­ness com­mu­nity has, for the most part, re­sponded with down­siz­ing, ca­su­al­i­sa­tion and stag­nant wages while con­tin­u­ing to gorge at the trough of cap­i­tal­ist prof­i­teer­ing. It has con­sis­tently sought to short-change, cir­cum­vent and sabotage the trans­for­ma­tion process. Let me state at this point that I’m not a Bol­she­vik-com­mu­nist­world con­spir­acist. How­ever, I do re­alise that cor­po­rate prof­its, of late, have been more to do with Gov­ern­ment’s ex­pan­sion­ary macro-eco­nomic and fis­cal pol­icy and less to do with in­no­va­tion, en­trepreneur­ship or pro­duc­tiv­ity gains on busi­ness’s part.

Through­out the world, busi­ness lead­ers have recog­nised that a skilled, in­no­va­tive and ed­u­cated work­force is their only sus­tain­able and re­new­able as­set, and that in­tel­lec­tual cap­i­tal ex­pan­sion is ac­tu­ally a busi­ness im­per­a­tive. Their gov­ern­ments are con­stantly be­ing lob­bied for ed­u­ca­tional spend­ing, and busi­ness and academia are sym­bi­ot­i­cally driv­ing eco­nomic growth. How­ever, it seems that our ex­ecs pre­fer their work­ers to be dumb, de­pen­dent and dis­pos­able if the mil­lions ly­ing un­spent in the Seta cof­fers for Fi­den­tia to loot are any­thing to go by. They are so stuck in “pil­lage” mode that it is no won­der the Di­datas, Idions, FirstRands and Alexan­der Forbes’ of this world have con­sis­tently been taken to school and had their lunch eaten by com­pa­nies that ac­tu­ally do have a clue about how to run a busi­ness. An­glo has gone from be­ing the crown jewel of this econ­omy to hav­ing to rope in an Amer­i­can to save it from be­ing a take-over tar­get. Brian Gil­bert­son, that poster child of South African busi­ness, couldn’t last six months at the head of a real first-world com­pany and had to go Rus­sian to find like-minded “busi­ness­men” in the Siberian tundra. Half the geri­atric di­nosaurs run­ning South African com­pa­nies wouldn’t recog­nise a growth strat­egy if it jumped up and bit them. And the other half should be pay­ing roy­al­ties to the de­vel­oped-world com­pa­nies whose busi­ness mod­els they so bla­tantly filch. No one wins in a race to the bot­tom.

Even a cur­sory look at the crime sta­tis­tics will re­flect that this na­tion is, in fact, en­gaged in a low-level civil war. Young black peo­ple in this coun­try are done with be­ing told to stand at the back of the queue and wait their turn. We are done with con­tort­ing our­selves into pret­zels of ac­cept­abil­ity for a busi­ness com­mu­nity that has cut cor­ners and taken the easy way out at ev­ery turn. From the ca­sual in­sti­tu­tion­alised racism ev­i­dent in the go­ings on at places like Fi­den­tia to the out­right bel­liger­ence with which white peo­ple treat their coun­try­men, be it the gar­dener in their yard or waiter at the restau­rant, race re­la­tions in this coun­try are toxic to the core. I have lived abroad for a fair bit and never ex­pe­ri­enced a tenth of the racism I have in my own coun­try. It is a dis­grace that nearly a gen­er­a­tion af­ter Man­dela was freed, white peo­ple still de­bate the bona fides of a gov­ern­ment un­der which they have never been more pros­per­ous or pro­tected. Rap­proche­ment is a twoway street but, up to now, black peo­ple have been do­ing all the heavy lift­ing. I might not have been around back then, but if we learnt any­thing from the youth of June 1976, it is that the es­tab­lish­ment more of­ten than not has its snout buried so deep in the trough that it never sees what’s com­ing.

As they say in Har­lem, Mr Mul­hol­land: “Step yo’ game up, or get step­ping, ’cos yo’ lines is wack, Homey.”

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