Sunday, 21 September 2008

From Cape to Cairo: Adios Mbeki

President J.F. Kennedy is known to have been the first to use and promote “Affirmative Action” which was introduced to create opportunities for the disadvantaged minority. The issue of “minority” is probably, key to Affirmative Action and its programmes. You could for example targeted women, gay, religious groupings, tribes etc.

The South African experiment of Affirmative Action, popularly known as Black Economic Empowerment “BEE” was introduced in 1994, as a way of bringing opportunities to those that were disadvantaged because of Apartheid policies. There has been a lot of criticism regarding the BEE programme. According to critics the policy has failed and it has only benefited a few and created black bourgeoisie, with the rest still in dire poverty.

It is interesting that the world is surprised that 14 years after BEE was introduced the policy has not fully achieved what it intended to. Was it not obvious? Did the world understand JFK at all? Affirmative action was for the Minority and not Majority. How do you create interventions for the majority? The whole essence of governance is dealing with the macro and such interventions deal with micro! So of course, the minority within the majority were able to benefit from BEE and within a decade become mega-millionaires. {Note: The argument, by all means is not to undermine some of the good programmes that BEE introduced and many have benefitted from}.

I would therefore argue that Affirmative Action, introduced to provide economic- opportunities and well-being for the majority, has catalysed the creation of a number of economic layers in the South African Society. The next Government of Jacob Zuma will have to deal with the negatives vibes arising from these layers. The prominent ones are:

1. The Corporate White that discovered that they were better off leaving the Blacks carry the flag whilst they made money in South Africa and in the rest of Africa (that was probably dormant and sleeping);
2. The new Corporate Black and emerging middle class that have benefited from BEE and silently enjoy their riches;
3. The docile flag carrying blacks that continue to wonder when real freedom is coming but still have faith and struggling every day;
4. The active flag carrying blacks that have decided to share in the wealth by any means necessary – hence engaging in crime;
5. The Afro-phobia group that sees the hard-working makhwere-khwere as enemy number one and denying them of the promised-land.

For the first group (Corporate White) they saw opportunities by quickly realising that the world was becoming flat (according to Thomas L. Friedman) and with no cold war, new technological advancement (computers, internet, and world wide-web, etc.) and more importantly the group, being accepted as Africans (following end of Apartheid) the world was at their feet. They decided to go for it and conquer Africa. They toured Africa and using the former intelligence gurus of South African Defence Forces, they targeted specific sectors (some sectors in collaboration with Government). These included Information, Technology and Communications (Cable Television (DSTV), Mobile phones (e.g. MTN), etc), Financial services (South African Financial Institutions and Banks moved into the region at amazing speed, e.g. STANBIC, NEDBANK, INVESTEC etc), Energy (Southern Africa Power Pool, Caborra Bassa, INGA dam etc), Mining, Construction, Insurance services, Airline (New routes for South African Airways), Hotels and Tourism in general (Sun, Holiday Inn etc). This was not the end. They had to bring South Africa closer to the real munthu (people). They thus targeted retail outlets to introduce South African produce/products through outlets like Shoprite, Pep Stores, GAME, furniture shops, Woolworth, etc etc. Of course by Germans allowing South Africa to have Mercedes Benz and BMW production centres, fellow Africans flocked to get the C class to manoeuvre them in their pot-holed roads. Since those that bought C-classes were influential people, then the Group Five and other construction companies were at hand to seal the potholes.

The story did not end there. When Tsotsis come to town, you need high walls and electrified fences, and a resource was already at hand – the former South African Defence force retirees who created security companies. Opportunities were just too many outside South Africa for this group. They found it a good social responsibility to be seen participating in the BEE programme. They welcomed the emerging black bourgeoisie to share the domestic spoils as they explored lucrative spoils abroad.

For the emerging bourgeoisie, life had just begun. To hell with communism they declared. They moved from Soweto to new suburbs (Sandton, Midrand etc), where they belonged, behind the wall fences and electric gates. They are the new investors on Johannesburg stock Exchange. They are the decision makers in new Government, corporate lawyers, accountants, CEOs and Managers of new emerging companies, Deal makers etc. Politics became less interesting except to ensure that the politicians shared in what they were getting. They know the game and they try to make sure the Tsotsis cannot get to them. Hard work, they say, pays-off.

A group not included which could be part of Group 2 are the business vultures that have descended on the land of Gold. These mainly include Nigerians, Chinese and other nationals from African and Asian countries. Their business lines vary from legal to illegal.

The third, fourth and fifth group have members that move back and forth in the three groups, although others may have decided to stick in one group. They happily join any demonstration. They run small businesses including the famous taxis. They are part of the thousands who passionately follow football. They run gangs in townships. They are faithful church goers. They work in factories and every 5pm they rush to get a taxi back to makomboni. They buy their groceries from little shops set up by ada Banda from Usisya or Mahomed from Somalia, or Fungai from Harare or Pinhero from Beira.

As inflation bites and this group (3,4,5) lose jobs, they start loudly calling Ada Banda Makhwerekhwere. A South African friend of mine recently returned from his one month holiday in Cape Town depressed. He now understands why it is estimated that 50 people are killed everyday in South Africa as a result of violence (robbery, mugging etc). He saw what he could term as “end of being nice to each other”. No Ubunthu. People actually look for an excuse to get into a fight. When he was in Cape Town, three people were killed following a fight. Reason? They were arguing about size of penis!! It is laughable but true. He also saw a copy of an official letter from a local Chamber of Commerce sent to a Somali business association warning them that, “Go Home. Do not get surprised if we torch your businesses”. This is August 2008!

Has all this been created by Affirmative Action? Probably not; But I believe that the choice of policy (i.e. Affirmative Action) as a solution to empowerment of majority has partly contributed to creation of a dangerous society where one can justifiably say “South Africa is a Time Bomb”. But time bombs are good when you know they exist as you can try to disable before they go off.

Adios Thabo Mbeki! I was at one time a great admirer of Poet Thambo Mbeki. I enjoyed listening and reading his speech, “I am an African”. I still believe he honestly served to take South Africa to greater heights. His philosophy as expressed in this speech was enriching and said a lot about his resolve. I quote:
“I am an African.
I have seen what happens when one person has superiority of force over another, when the stronger appropriate to themselves the prerogative even to annul the injunction that God created all men and women in His image.
I know what if signifies when race and colour are used to determine who is human and who, sub-human. I have experience of the situation in which race and colour is used to enrich some and impoverish the rest. It gives concrete expression to the sentiment we share as Africans, and will defend to the death, that the people shall govern.
Like many who suddenly think they are the only ones created to serve human-kind, he got emotive and fell under the “Third Term Sword” and his lines from “I am an African”.

Being a descendant of Khoi, the San, European migrants and Malay slaves, Mbeki made the world problems his problems and he felt it was his responsibility to contribute to solutions in Ivory Coast, Burundi, DRC, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe etc. He worked diligently and did achieve solutions – maybe not always sustainable. Mbeki is probably not the right person to stop the “time bomb” from exploding as he probably has no idea it exists.

As Africa, we can only hope that the time bomb was set to explode after another decade, because if it were to explode in the next 3 years, the dust will spread and contaminate everyone from Cape to Cairo.

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