MY VIEW: “BLACK SOUTH AFRICA WILL STAY POOR.”

 

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FB post by Brian Mulenga. What lessons can we pick as Zambian entrepreneurs?

 

“BLACK SOUTH AFRICA WILL STAY POOR”

 

 

THERE is a rising cry that Nelson Mandela was somehow a pawn of the white people and that he did nothing for the black people after Independence.

Well here is the real truth. In the 1950s and 1960s, African nations got Independence. In a lot of countries, the first thing people set about doing was getting so-called “Economic Independence. ” Economic independence for the black African  always meant chasing all the colonialists and foreigners out and “appropriating “ their assets and sharing them amongst the local people.

In 1960, the DRC then called the Belgian Congo, became “Independent “ and promptly descended into chaos. However, this was more political chaos rather than economic chaos. That came in 1972. Mobutu Sese Seko seized all foreign-owned businesses and gave them to Congolese to universal acclaim. The DRC never ever recovered from that single move. Within months shops were empty, farms were reverting to the bush and the decline into business chaos in the Congo began.

In 1975, a young black leader took office in Mozambique and he had plainly announced he would “expropriate “ everything and run a Marxist state. By 1977 simple things like toothpaste or soap were no long available in Mozambique. In fact, so rare were such things as washing powder that in 1987 Renamo rebels attacked a Zambian shop in Nyimba and looted it. Several Renamo rebels got sick when they ate Dynamo washing paste thinking it was some sort of spread for bread. They had never seen anything like it.

In Tanzania Mwalimu Nyerere, “nationalized “ everything and the result was severe shortages incomprehensible to Zambians. Tanzania became an economic wasteland where sugar, tea, soap, matches were simply not to be had.
In Uganda Idi Amin, in 1973 decided that Indians who dominated business had to go. He expelled 90,000 Indians in three months and the result was total economic collapse. Factories ground to a halt. Shops emptied and Uganda almost reverted to a village type economy with corporate business almost disappearing. The effects were terrible for the people living in Uganda with simple things like sanitary pads becoming very difficult to find

The ANC were in exile in these countries and they saw the economic damage which “expropriation “and “redistribution “ by force caused. This led to a significant movement within the ANC to decide that they would not repeat the mistakes of the other African countries. The truth is and this is the naked ugly truth, black South Africans have not seized the opportunities available for them. The government, for instance, has ordered public procurement to reserve business for black South Africans. When you read the annual reports of companies like Eskom, Telkom, Broadband Infraco, Spoornet, literally billions of dollars of business goes begging.

They cannot meet their targets for black empowerment. Why? The lack of appropriately skilled contractors meant business reserved for black people could not be given to them. Instead, they supply stationary, printers, etc. Business anyone can do. Import stuff from China or the US and mark it up and sell it on. Real work like electrical engineering contracts, equipment maintenance etc. all goes begging and they are forced to give it to the traditional suppliers and contractors. The white and Asian minority.

“Economic empowerment “ is not handed to people on a plate. People have to work for it. In South Africa, the civil service and parastatals are now very black. The diversification of work forces has worked but it has also lead to a very curious phenomenon. The white people come back as contractors and suppliers to do the jobs they used to do. South Africa is full of what my friend calls “office engineers “ and technicians. They have the degrees and certificates but they don’t have the skills.

Is this Mandela’s fault? That black people have not seized the opportunities offered? When black people from the rest of Africa have seen the opportunities and moved in it has caused resentment. Black South Africans are their own worst enemies. When you go to a South African University you find the classes of liberal arts and humanities are full of black people. History, Library studies, education etc. The difficult courses like engineering, sciences, telecommunications even the harder arts courses like business studies, accounts, finance, banking are not popular.

To this day there are more white chartered accountants than blacks. Even South African Airways, the South African Navy and the South African Air Force has had problems recruiting technical staff like pilots, technicians and engineers. At one stage the South African Air Force could not replace all the retiring pilots and engineers simply because there were not enough black people passing the training and not enough were applying for the jobs!!! The Air Force of Zimbabwe had to help with pilots and technicians!!! South African Airways still cannot get enough black pilots. The South African Navy cannot sail its ships and submarines simply because there are not enough technicians and engineers to man the ships.
The plain hard truth is there is something very wrong with the attitude and culture of the Black South Africans. There are simply not enough entrepreneurs and technically skilled black South Africans to take up the opportunities available in the country and which the government has assiduously promoted.

Take farming for instance. The ANC government has bought millions of hectares of land has offered it up for black farmers. It has not been taken up and yet Julius Malema is literally shaking the whole economy and crying about “economic injustice “ over – and yet there is land on the table. Things have been tried. At the Johannesburg Market, the biggest fresh produce market in Africa, the government has tried to create black-owned co-operatives to become wholesalers. Instead of competing for business, the co-operative has now demanded that business be reserved for it in the name of black empowerment!!!

The truth is Nelson Mandela could not force Black South Africans to go to school. He could not force Black South Africans to rise above simple kantemba business. The government has tried to empower black South Africans but it seems the lure of kwaito, drugs and alcohol is higher. The politically connected like Julius Malema have enriched themselves with contracts to supply paper, toner etc.

However, the real empowerment setting up the SMEs that do all the skilled jobs like engineering, printing, metal fabrication etc. has not happened. It takes people with the right qualifications to do that and unfortunately black South Africans do not want to take up these jobs or set up these businesses. Until they do, and the ball is in their court, not Nelson Mandela’s or Ramaphosa’s or Malema’s they will not take control of their economy. Grabbing what other people worked for has not worked anywhere in the world. The History is there.

  • Brian Mulenga.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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