“UNLESS you take control of your destiny, you will have no destiny.”
These words could easily have been construed as a warning. But on a chilly evening this week at a conference centre at Old Mutual in Pinelands, a gathering of black business owners, aspirant owners and young professionals interpreted the message as a call to action – more so because the messenger was one of the country’s most successful and controversial business moguls, Independent Media executive chairman Dr Iqbal Survé.
The response was enthusiastic applause.
It never takes the doctor long to warm to the task, and this address was no exception. Speaking as a black business leader to a predominantly black audience, Survé said: “The narrative is, we should set up our own banks, that we should set up our own institutions, and that we should set up our own development structures.
“The reality is this is not the right way to do it. We must be far braver than that. We should be more courageous than that.”
Then, pointing across the hall, he said: “This institution does not belong to white people. The bulk of the money it gets in comes from the pensions of black South Africans.
“Take this as your starting point. If you understand this, you will understand that you can take control of this institution. But you must have the courage to to do so.”
More applause. Only louder this time.
“You must accept,” Survé continued, “you will not be supported by people when you threaten their economic system and power base.”
Survé’s rise to the top was built on an unshakeable belief in himself. He was born poor – “like so many of you in this hall”, he said. But he was determined to break the spiral of poverty that threatened to choke him and his family.
To supplement the family income while at school, he sold the Cape Times at Kenilworth station on weekday mornings, and the Cape Argus at one of the traffic lights on Rosmead Avenue in the afternoons.
“I hated the job,” he said. “But now I own the two newspapers.”
Survé’s early days as a business owner, though highly successful, were underlined by a number of clashes with some of the country’s white business elite. Just as Steve Biko wrote I Write What I Like, Iqbal Survé said he was prepared to tell these business people what he felt they needed to be told. “I said what I liked.”
He told the audience that one of these businessmen, from Stellenbosch, had the temerity to try to lecture him on how to succeed in business.
“I questioned him on how far he would have got if he had not received government support. He was furious.
“But my attitude was that he had no right to tell me who or what I must be in business,” said Survé.
To more prolonged applause, he told the audience: “We will never succeed if we are prepared to accept the crumbs that are thrown to us by businesses that were able to build themselves into massive conglomerates during the apartheid years.”
He accused these companies of still being untransformed, adding that, by contrast, the companies he is associated with are the most transformed in the country.
Survé lamented the fact that 22 years into democracy, key institutions such as academia, business and the arts still largely reflect the demographics of apartheid. These, he said, were factors that impeded transformation
In fact, transformation had not reached its objectives.
“Twenty-two years into democracy, black people are still without the resources to be able to access the keys of learning,” he said.
“The #FeesMustFall campaign has highlighted the fact that black students cannot afford to pay fees. It is deeply frustrating when the very same students witness a few black academics who have obtained Master’s degrees and PhDs, and are still not appointed to professorships by predominantly white universities.
“The culture of these institutions has laid the foundation for an anti-transformation institutional agenda which has caused huge frustration amongst students, staff and workers.”
He harshly criticised those institutions that thought that because they were once regarded as liberal, or had once gained a reputation for having fought against apartheid, “now think they know what is good for black people”.
It’s a superiority complex, he said, which Steve Biko outlined clearly in his famous book on black consciousness: I Write What I Like.
Biko wrote – and always believed – that white people are not superior, and that black people should not feel inferior to whites.
“We are Africans,” said Survé. “But there is a notion of superiority that is forcefully articulated by a media that remains rooted in the nexus of Afrikanerdom and racial superiority.”
Lashing out at Naspers, he said: “It will go to great depths to demonise black business leaders, artists, judges and black academics, but remain silent on the incompetencies and corruption of their brethren. They will investigate black people until they are blue in the face, but they will not investigate their white brethren who are still responsible for the destruction and consequences of apartheid today – 22 years into democracy.
“The anti-transformation agenda is able to execute itself since it controls the four pillars that are necessary to influence society in a meaningful way. These are: business, academia, the economy and the media.
“Until these institutions are fully transformed, they will continue to pose the greatest threat to our democracy and the advancement of a people-driven South Africa, and the advancement of black people in this country.
“Albert Einstein famously said, ‘You cannot fix a problem if you use the same method for the problem’.
“We all know Naspers is a media monopoly. The architect of apartheid, Hendrik Verwoerd, was the founder of Naspers. He was once the editor of a National Party mouthpiece, Die Transvaler. PW Botha also sat on the board of Naspers.”
PW Botha, he said, had set up a state security apparatus that was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people who had fought against the apartheid regime.
Survé said that the difference between Naspers today and the Naspers that was conceived from the womb of the apartheid beast, is that it is still being run by many of the same people who founded it, with the exception of a few token blacks.
“Naspers is the greatest danger to democracy, and our government will regret the day it did not unbundle this monopoly. They remain below the radar, by using their resources to influence key decision-makers of government. Naspers is ruthless in their pursuit to destroy competition and the transformation agenda.
“If we allow them to destroy our democracy project, there will be no hope.
“Malcom X famously said the media will have you loving the oppressor and hating the oppressed. Naspers remains the greatest danger to transformation. Any transformation without addressing control of the narrative is a false one.
“A horizon of a cold winter South Africa will enter, and the people will be frozen out. This will be no different to the years of apartheid. This will be our future unless we transform our society. No society can transform unless it unpacks the truth to define its own future.”