Reactions to bridge collapse are telling
The anger on social media proves how black people are still spectators in SA’s economy, writes Victor Kgomoeswana.
Johannesburg - The makeshift bond that held the first and second economies of South Africa caved in this week. The symbolic link between black and white, which convinced us that we are one South Africa, tumbled down in the richest square mile of Africa, Sandton, with a fatal loud bang.
The tragic collapse of the temporary scaffolding bridge, near the Grayston Drive exit on the M1, linking Alex to Sandton claimed the lives of two people and injured 23, reminded us we need therapy big time. More than that, we crave a lasting radical economic transformation.
The metropolitan highway that links Sandton to the Johannesburg had to be closed, while the construction company, Murray & Roberts, cleaned up, and tried to explain what really happened.
Theories ranged from a cement truck that might have hit the structure before it collapsed to bad weather, but we should let the investigation tell us once and for all what happened.
However, South Africans with our baggage never needed any objective investigation into what happened before making their pronouncements.
While Joburg mayor Parks Tau had his Rudy Giuliani mini-moment, South Africans took to social media to try those presumed guilty until proven innocent.
Not many asked how the injured were recuperating or how the bereaved families were getting by.
My reverie got rattled by a Tweet from @gabonantho: “Seriously!! And it turned out to be Murray & Roberts.” I scrolled down to see what the commotion was about. It was a reaction to an earlier Tweet from @crabracer (a massive leap to conclusion): “Bridge under construction collapsed onto the M1 near Grayston Drive. Tenderpreneur??”
Why did @crabracer assume that whoever was building the bridge was a tenderpreneur? A tenderpreneur is a misnomer for post-1994 (often politically connected) business people who built their enterprises by exploiting public procurement opportunities. Well, which industrial company of any import ever got anywhere without tenders?
Murray & Roberts? Group Five? WBHO? Not many.
In fact, the world over corporations were built on the back of public sector procurement.
Still, when black people do that, it is wrong. I will not get into the merits of the corruption and bribery that could be involved, because once again there are scandals regarding that from time immemorial, everywhere.
The tragedy of this sort of interaction is how conveniently we resort to pointing fingers at the new dispensation to explain what could have happened anywhere. This is when I wish I lived in Nigeria or Tanzania or some other African country with a poor national highway network. Oops!
What irked me even more was how the bigotry of @crabracer was countenanced by others trying to pin the tragedy on black tenderpreneurs.
@Trotboy made it worse: “@crabracer FYI and those who seem to think that Murray & Roberts is “white” it has three black directors and one Indian director to win those tenders.”
I got livid and asked both @Trotboy and @crabracer to tell me whether the point was that appointing black directors to a white company would impair its technical capability so much that it suddenly started building poor quality bridges. I never got a response from either of them.
Facebook was no better. I read a remark that the media looked for an excuse for Murray & Roberts because it was not a BEE company.
Another asked what the educational qualifications of the chief executive officer were. Even the SABC’s Hlaudi Motsoeneng was brought into the fray as an example of how the media always fry black people for their slip-ups while sparing their white counterparts.
Back to the therapy I referred to. Are we all aware that our prejudice is stopping us from addressing important issues? How and when are we going to make Africa truly belong to those who live in it?
Why is our economy, with its pedestrian growth, still leaving so many black people feeling marginalised? Some of the social media jurors that I know are what we erroneously call “black middle class”
Is middle class being able to access credit on a platinum card or being able to raise finance to buy a house in a traditionally white suburb? Middle class should mean that these black people have assets working for them to finance their needs – particularly enabling them to pay their black tax too.
How many of these so-called black middle class can quit their job for a year to travel the world or retreat to an exotic island to write a book, confident that their bills and black tax will be paid?
How many of us will bequeath to our children tangible assets, when we finally croak?
The anger on social media and the naive or racist vitriol by fellow South Africans like @crabracer proves how black people are still spectators in an economy they should be driving.
The chasm between the white South Africans who are happy to point a finger at the very political change that allowed them to continue running the economy in spite of their ugly political economic pedigree is scandalous.
Nobody is going to knock sense into our heads to join hands and make our economy genuinely inclusive, but ourselves.
The real danger, though, is that incidents such as the M1 disaster could have led to a full-blown racial confrontation.
If this week’s social media non-conversation had taken place at a sports stadium or a shopping mall, we all would have exchanged physical blows or bullets, not “likes”, “retweets” or “emoticons” of fury.
Unless we work together to transform our economy to uplift the majority we might just be priming an explosive dispensation that will go off without a countdown.
The bright side of all this is if and when the economy gets fully transformed and inclusive, both black and white South Africans will emerge winners.
We are fast running out of time, if it already is not too late.
My sincerest condolences to all the bereaved families!
* The views expressed here are not necessarilt those of Independent Media.
The Sunday Independent
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