Black people need to stop trying to get into a game that does not want them, writes Victor Kgomoeswana.
Johannesburg - September is Heritage Month, and I elect to start by remembering one of Africa’s most incisive thinkers, a martyr whose influence I crave when I’m confronted by the frustration of my country’s youth with the slow pace of transformation of the economy.
Why am I thinking of Steve Biko this week? Three things: one, I interviewed young Nandi Mbele on my radio show about her latest milestone, attaining the highest qualification as a pilot. They call it the Airline Transport Pilot Licence.
Mbele is only the sixth black woman to attain this. South Africa is said to have more than 3 000 holders of such a licence. Mbele’s story, inevitably, filled me with hope; although it left me wishing we had 6 000 black women like her, not six.
The second was a failed attempt to stop the national rugby team from participating in the World Cup because of its poor representation of black people.
Then there was a moving letter, titled “Dear Brother Fanon”, in which Thato Magano implores Frantz Fanon to give her guidance as she battles to reconcile why the anger of young black South Africans is misunderstood or treated with downright contempt.
In this essay, Magano cites the dismissive reaction to expletives used by another young South African, Mbe Mbhele, directed at white people at a public lecture. She also refers to a caller to a radio programme who was tired of fighting the exclusive language policy of the University of Stellenbosch, where Afrikaans is the predominant language of instruction, leaving mainly black students at a disadvantage.
Magano cleverly and poignantly asks Fanon, revolutionary and author of such seminal works as The Wretched of the Earth: “Should we not see these actions as the beginnings of ‘the great black scream’ that is to shake the foundations of the world?”
I suspect Fanon would have said: “Yes, it is!” But I also reckon he would emphasise action instead of angry outbursts at a public lecture.
Nobody knows the pain of exclusion like the black people of South Africa. Why should we not see that after 21 years of political freedom, 90 percent of the population continue to live on the fringes of an economy built with the blood and sweat of their forebears?
Does it take exceptional intelligence to figure out that what we call intractable crime is nothing but a socio-economic convulsion in a society that has failed to engineer an economic solution to centuries of racial oppression that left most black people without proper education?
Is it hard to understand that our jobless economic growth, ineffectual education and health system, and the rising cost of living add up to a ticking time bomb about to blow?
While I may not be spot-on about how Fanon would respond to Magano’s question, I suppose Biko would say: “Magano, Mbhele, and all black people of South Africa, you are on your own!”
I am not stuck in a long, desperate queue to get my share of game time at Wits or Stellenbosch, like Mbhele; nor am I queueing for an unemployment insurance payout. Nor am I homeless or destitute.
As much as I am in no position to dictate how Mbhele – as an example of young marginalised youth – should express his anger, I would be failing him if I did not point out that anger is the worst adviser for anyone intent on driving a revolution.
Right now, because of his outburst, the attention is on his approach instead of the substance of what he said or the reason for it. Unfairly? Not quite.
If you stand up in a public lecture to make a point, no matter how frustrated, you cannot direct vulgar words at white or black or gay or straight people, no matter how much you believe they are responsible for your suffering. The most effective way to hand victory to your enemy is to allow them to anger you. Once you are angry, they control you.
Black people need to stop trying to get into a game that does not want them. Instead of wanting to force the national rugby team to have enough black players come World Cup time, we should build strong teams in Soweto, Seshego, Mangaung, Mdantsane, Thohoyandou, Lenyenye, KwaMhlanga, etc.
Let us build teams so strong they can take on the untransformed Currie Cup teams and win. The same goes for cricket, and business.
Where will we get the resources? Where there is a will, there is a way. The government, corporate social investment, individual donors; even better, by redirecting our immense buying power towards black-owned businesses or recreational expenditure at worthy causes.
How about investing our resources as alumni of universities such as Fort Hare, Western Cape, and Durban-Westville to produce our own nuclear physicists who can compete on the world stage? I’m reminded of a superb black physicist, the late Reggie Kganyago. Please look him up to see what sterling work he did, from what used to be called a bush college, the University of Limpopo.
It’s when black people muster the necessary level of black consciousness, which is what Biko preached, that we can convert our overwhelming majority into our socio-economic advantage.
Trying to force ourselves into Stellenbosch, Wits or any other varsities which, as our young people keep telling us from their daily experience, are not wired to accommodate us, is proving what Biko said: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
Why are the majority trying so fiercely to fit into environments that will leave them an accommodated majority, instead of creating their own? It is not the failure of white companies or predominantly white rugby teams to accommodate us that is the problem; it is our belief that we should be let in – instead of creating our own.
How long must black South Africans fight to fit into the boardrooms of JSE-listed companies instead of creating their own JSE or Nairobi- or Lagos-listed companies?
If Phuthuma Nhleko led MTN to become a global giant, Thandi Ndlovu built Motheo Construction to the highest level of accreditation, and Aliko Dangote became the richest person in Africa, why do we keep looking to fit in elsewhere?
Let us use one of Biko’s sayings to motivate ourselves daily, “It is only when black people are so dedicated and united in their cause that we can effect the greatest result” – not when we are accommodated.
* Victor Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Business, anchor of CNBC Africa’s weekly show Africa Business News and anchor of the daily show Power Hour on PowerFM. He writes in his personal capacity.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.