Historians, true historians, tell us that in this part of southern Africa the denial of rights of indigenous people started with the arrival, on our shores, of one Portuguese voyager, Bartholomeu Diaz, in 1488.
It is further narrated that in the Algoa Bay area, where he landed, there was a misunderstanding arising from his non-observance of the protocol for accessing and using water, and this resulted in the first Khoikhoi person being killed.
It is today about 532 years since that incident, and we still find that the life of people of colour and what they stand for counts for nothing in a white-dominated landscape. The case in point is the treatment of the company AYO Technology Solutions Pty Ltd and its sister companies by the white-dominated Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE).
History is replete with stories of centuries of white domination of the black race, from the wars fought by the gallant warriors of the Khoikhoi, from the battle of Salt River in 1510, like Xhore, a Khoisan indigenous leader, followed by other leaders like Autshumato, and a string of other leaders. In total they fought no fewer than five wars.
They even joined forces with the Xhosa in five of the nine frontier wars the latter fought over a period of 100 years between 1781 and 1878. The question must be asked again, and again: How long?
The domination shifted from the Dutch to the British, later to the English and Afrikaners, a combination of the two against people of colour who were excluded from the body politic of the country, purely on racial grounds, from 1910-1994.
Black people were politically excluded, racially discriminated against, socially denigrated and economically exploited.
It has been over centuries that this treatment has been meted out to people of colour and their institutions, such as we see now with the differential treatment of the largest black-empowered ICT company in the land and the third of the three black companies on the JSE, 26 years after the arrival of our democracy.
The question must be asked: How long?
At the height of apartheid years, the renowned and innovative playwright, Gibson Kente, came up with a play by the same name: How long? He was moved by the conditions in which he saw his people living under. How long, he asked.
We have been writing to the JSE in response to numerous letters they have been writing to this company and its sister companies, in an unprecedented way.
We have been challenging them, in the interests of openness and transparency, to show evidence of how many letters they have written to the other white companies, which – unlike AYO – lost billions of rand worth of shareholders’ funds, but they have not been forthcoming.
They have been playing the regulation card, when in fact it has become evident now that they are targeting AYO and its sister companies, regardless of the consequences likely to flow from the demise of the companies.
The fact that as many as 1500 people would lose employment counts for nothing.
One guesses that their response will be just like that of a former minister of justice, Jimmy Kruger, who, upon hearing of the death of Steve Biko, said: “His death leaves me cold.”
Could this be the attitude of the JSE towards the plight of people employed by AYO and its sister companies?
Could it be that the hearts have been so hardened that this could be the attitude of those in the JSE towards the consequences of their actions, which predictably can only result in not only the diminution of the value of the shares of these companies, but their demise, their being wiped out of existence, after more than 20 years in the case of AYO and its sister companies.
The question must be asked: How long?
Could it be that at the time the country needs to focus on economic recovery, it is proper for the JSE to arrogate to itself the role of the “hangman” of these black companies, where many have already fallen victim to the toxic atmosphere that seems to prevail at the JSE?
As far as we are concerned, there is no fairness or equity in treating AYO in the same way, as the likes of Tongaat Hulett or Steinhoff, where fraudulent actions were admitted and proven and enormous amounts of money lost.
Then there’s the imposition of a fine of R6million, which we regard as extortion, as it is out of proportion to the human errors committed. For how long will a black company like AYO be treated so unfairly and differentially?
How long? Answers are called for now.
We are suffocating under this treatment, get your knee off our neck. We must breathe and do business and create value for our shareholders and support our employees, who struggle daily, anxious about whether they will still have jobs.
How long must they live under these man-made conditions; when will this come to end?
Let me end by paraphrasing Judge Damon J Keith, Circuit Court Judge of Appeals, in his address, “What happens to a dream deferred: An assessment of a Civil Rights Law 20 years after the 1963 March on Washington”, speaking in the black American context, which is relevant to South Africa:
“This nation stands before the world as perhaps the last expression of the possibility that a people can devise social order where justice is the supreme ruler, and law but its instrument; where freedom is the dominant creed, and order but its principle; and where equality is common practice and fraternity the common human condition.
“We may be the last generation that has the opportunity to help our nation fulfil its promise and realise its potential. Our generation may be the last to have a chance – a chance to balance the scales of justice, open the doors of opportunity and break the chains of bondage (economic bondage, that is) that still prevails.”
Although the dream of our forebears, the founders of our liberation Struggle – pre-eminent among them Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela – seems to have faded in recent years, it remains the best dream that we have and the truest South African vision for a better tomorrow, which among other things is to: “Improve the quality of all citizens and free the potential of each person.”
Even as we ask how long, let there be no mistaking that we come from a long line of warriors, having fought many battles in our individual and collective lives, and we are not going to take this lying down.
We will challenge every move of our adversaries, inch by inch, to the bitter end.
Dr Wallace Mgoqi is the Chairman: AYO Technology Solutions Pty Ltd, and writes in his personal capacity.