We must make an ef­fort to own our own econ­omy

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION&ANALYSIS - Dr Thami Mazwai is spe­cial ad­viser to the Min­is­ter of Small Busi­ness Devel­op­ment, but writes in his per­sonal ca­pac­ity.

THE LACK OF “en­tre­pre­neur­ial sol­i­dar­ity” in the black com­mu­nity re­ferred to in my last col­umn is a sore point that very few peo­ple ad­dress di­rectly or, if they do, they gloss over re­al­ity. This is the im­pres­sion one has af­ter a ra­dio talk show fol­low­ing my col­umn. In­ter­ac­tion was based on the usual con­sumer and mar­ket dy­nam­ics talk and, yet, there are more com­plex and deeper is­sues at play. At the fore are is­sues around the “post colony” and its com­plex­i­ties around the trans­for­ma­tion of our econ­omy.

Firstly, and to get to the point, our coun­try is not in want of world class pro­grammes, one of these be­ing the Agri­parks pro­grammes. Un­for­tu­nately, the pro­grammes do not have the de­sired im­pact as, sooner or later, they must con­front cog­ni­tive, so­cial and in­sti­tu­tional dy­nam­ics al­ways at play and these, un­for­tu­nately, make or break pro­grammes.

These dy­nam­ics are the un­der­ly­ing in­di­vid­ual-level and group-level per­cep­tions, ac­tions and re­ac­tions that shape day-to­day life. They also ex­press them­selves in the so­cial, re­li­gious and eth­nic net­works, in­clud­ing stokvels.

We have ig­nored the fact that the eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment and in­fras­truc­ture we in­her­ited was cre­ated un­der and for apartheid. Worse still, and look­ing at the long term, to what ex­tent is the African Union’s “Agenda 2063”, the SADC in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion strat­egy and the coun­try’s Na­tional Devel­op­ment Plan part of the nar­ra­tive in our school­ing sys­tem, in­clud­ing the ter­tiary sec­tor?

If learn­ers in pri­mary, sec­ondary and ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion are not taught these strate­gies, who is then go­ing to make them re­al­ity?

In­deed, and to re­turn to the point, these mi­cro foun­da­tions are in­tan­gi­bles and are not eas­ily ad­dressed in terms of im­ple­men­ta­tion, given other com­plex­i­ties in com­mu­ni­ties. With all re­spect, it still can­not be busi­ness as usual as the past, in terms of the struc­ture of the econ­omy, is per­pet­u­at­ing it­self.


Colo­nial­ism and apartheid cre­ated a par­a­digm in de­ci­sion mak­ing, ac­tion and re­la­tion­ships based on race. Com­mu­ni­ties then so­cialised them­selves or were forced on to this par­a­digm; and it be­came the or­tho­doxy over the ages. This or­tho­doxy shaped our frame of ref­er­ence, black and white, and the mantra was “white is su­pe­rior and black is in­fe­rior”.

Need­less to add, we are not talk­ing ab­so­lutism. There was no way to re­verse this or­tho­doxy in­stan­ta­neously post 1994 ex­cept to hope that with time so­ci­eties will re­struc­ture them­selves to a new nor­mal­ity based on the pre­cepts of our new so­ci­ety.

The preva­lence of the pre­vi­ous or­tho­doxy con­tin­ues to in­flu­ence eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, even in the rest of Africa. To make an ex­am­ple. It is not amiss to find that in Africa’s former French colonies, the lo­cal hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try still im­ports eggs or pro­cessed meats from France.

Just as is the case in former Por­tuguese or Bri­tish colonies. With South Africa’s black ar­eas, two pre­vi­ously white owned fu­neral houses of the apartheid era did not touch black corpses, let alone bury them. These same fu­neral houses are to­day dom­i­nat­ing town­ship mar­kets to the ex­clu­sion of black un­der­tak­ers who, tra­di­tion­ally, were the peo­ple who would bury the dead in these ar­eas whether one has money or not.

This can be ex­trap­o­lated for all sec­tors, in­clud­ing soc­cer.

This con­tin­u­ing in­jus­tice is vis­i­ble in the taxi in­dus­try where the en­tire value chain is owned by the others, and blacks merely own and/or drive taxis.

When taxi driv­ers and own­ers block roads in protest, we an­grily shout about the main­te­nance of law and order.

Yet we should be dig­ging deeper to un­der­stand the protests. In­ci­den­tally, these are the very same con­cerns raised by univer­sity stu­dents in their de­mand for the de­coloni­sa­tion of ed­u­ca­tion.

In­deed, the point made ear­lier on con­sumer and mar­ket dy­nam­ics are a re­al­ity.

Our econ­omy is ne­olib­eral and, in any case, eco­nomic free­dom is en­shrined in our con­sti­tu­tion. Fur­ther­more, we are in the global fam­ily and must have an open econ­omy. Thus, the big play­ers we in­her­ited and the new ones from over­seas will con­tinue to dom­i­nate.

These, it goes with­out say­ing, will dig in as, nat­u­rally, profit max­imi­sa­tion and deep­en­ing their hold in mar­kets is the name of the game.

This is what their share­hold­ers, black and white in nu­mer­ous pen­sion funds, ex­pect of them.

Black eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment and the cur­rent strate­gies on rapid eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion are thus sorely needed.

But, we need to take the com­plex­i­ties re­ferred to above into ac­count and not pre­tend they are not there. In days gone by Sam Mot­suenyane and his then stately Na­tional African Federated Cham­bers of Com­merce cam­paigned for the rand to stay in our black ar­eas and build black busi­ness.

We need to go back to these fun­da­men­tals and craft strate­gies on how blacks play a more sig­nif­i­cant role in the econ­omy and not hark on for 10 per­cent of what others have cre­ated.

Other com­mu­ni­ties, even in our South Africa, have suc­ceeded in en­sur­ing this. Just what is wrong with us lo­cal blacks? Are we as blacks not re­ally able to use our com­bined buy­ing power, and our brain power cou­pled with the mil­lions that cir­cu­late in our midst, to make real stakes to re­struc­ture and own our econ­omy? If we could cre­ate the Black Com­mu­nity Pro­grammes dur­ing the Steve Biko days in which black pro­fes­sion­als served with pride, why can’t we re­vive this?

We need to go back to these fun­da­men­tals and craft strate­gies on how blacks play a more sig­nif­i­cant role in the econ­omy.


Re­vive Steve Bantu Biko’s Black Com­mu­nity Pro­grammes, says the writer.

Thami Mazwai


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