We must make an effort to own our own economy
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.