Like most people who have been associated with the Guptas, Jimmy Manyi, a long champion of black empowerment and transformation since his days as chair of Black Management Forum, found himself faced with a false choice. As a society we are clear; we will not accept, even from our own President, as we do not from many fellow white South Africans, who, when we point out their own wrong doings, mischievously redirect us to the mistakes of others on some misguided ‘mistakes by scale’.
When some pointed out the Gupta’s as a cancer to our government, others pointed out to bigger cancers, whites who still own the economy, own the Land, influence our Treasury, as the bigger cancers that must be priorities, not the Gupta’s who barely own 5% of the deals in many SOE’s. We have stated it clearly that we reject this false choice. We reject the inability to humble oneself and accept our mistakes. ANC will not lose moral superiority because of people who want to be vanguards of transformation projects as a misdirected ploy.
At a personal level though, at a level of individual advancement, Life is too hard to judge each others choices, too messy to live according to abstract Ideals. In this light we have no choice but to congratulate Manyi for growing his portfolio as a black man, particularly in an industry whose power dynamics are unyielding. Despite this pride though on Jimmy’s individual advancement, the financing of this deal brings a sense of shame and raises great concerns about where we are as a black people and how far off our dreams are, of changing the ownership structure of the economy if some hard and long sacrifices are not made.
Historically, the southern church, a watershed for slaves and the black community was built with sweat and pennies saved from share cropping, where on a hot Sunday morning, all the quiet terror and open wounds of the week drained away tears and shouts of gratitude. The clapping, waving, fanning hands reddening, spoke of a desire and conviction that survival, freedom, and hope, will still depend on building something for ourselves, and owning a piece of history. With all odds against black people so many centuries ago, out of sheer force of will, black people created something they could call their own.
Whilst white oppression’s ultimate goal was to ‘make the oppressed to think the worst of himself’, that a black man could never do anything for himself, by himself, black people working within the limits of the oppressors brutal world, slaves, managed to build something that has lasted a lifetime. If they could not own businesses, if they could not trade, their industriousness would be channeled to the only world that brought them solace, The Church.
This black commitment to black ownership and black independence has not lasted long. Better black people have abandoned the nest into tidier neighborhoods, suburban life. Out of loyalty they still engage in black solidarity and programmes but the nature of their involvement has changed. There is a lot of hesitation in being employed by predominantly white companies and then being seen being overtly pro-black. We are all South Africans. When they do go back to the homes and black neighborhoods they complain about security, about the safety of their cars. The link to the past has been broken, a black nation divided.
Today, according to the reports from the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth the purchasing power of African American consumers has reached $1.2 trillion. In South Africa, that purchasing power of the black middle class is over R400 billion. exceeding the R323 billion spent by historically wealthier white middle class. According to the University of Cape Town marketing professor, John Simpson, who did a 2016 research comparing black middleclass to white middle class ‘The black middle class is keeping the entire economy alive – there has been an explosion of the black middle class.
On top of that, over the last 23 years of freedom, Black people have acquired more than money. We have learnt about interest rates, corporate mergers, the legislature process, about the way businesses and banks are put together, how real estate ventures succeed or fail. We have learnt about the power of currency in all its intricacies and details.
Given what we were able to accomplish as slaves and the oppressed, with today’s purchasing power and our wide and intense knowledge of the ways of the world, it begs a question why are we not the most powerful people on the face of the earth.
The first problem is that as black people, once we have attained our freedom, we have not always advanced with shared purpose. We have not always appreciated that each individual career pursuit is part of a grand plan, that we are not just simply fleeing from possible inconsequence. It cannot be that all its about is an escape, an escape from poverty, from crime, from shackles of our skin.
The second lessons has been that as Black people, everywhere we have learnt the hard-way, that power is unyielding and principle unstable, and that even after laws have been passed the hardest thing would still involve escape, flight into the riches of the white mans empire – or closer into its bossom, a black man lost with his freedom.
The shame then of Jimmy Manyi using vendor financial or even fronting as many have called it, is not Manyi’s, it is your, children of Soweto and Alexander, it is yours daughters of Mlazi and Mashu, for instead of your sons and daughters pulling their new found wealth, they decided to acquire a white men’s world, rendering themselves indebted and powerless. The 400 billion black middle class spends annually is not being spent in black communities, it is not being spent buying black companies, is it scattered in white mans neighborhoods and shopping malls.
If Manyi must be damned, then we all are.
Yonela Diko is Meda Strategist & Social Commentator