South Africa’s Next Miracle

4 May

South Africa’s Next Miracle

(Delivered at the 11th Annual Oliver Empowerment Award Gala Dinner on 3 May 2012)

Ladies and gentlemen, good evening.

Here is an often-told story that remains amazing to this day and will most likely remain so for some time to come:

A man who should have been given the death penalty was given a life sentence. That man could have died in jail, but he did not. Instead, he lived to help negotiate a virtually bloodless handover of power from his jailers to his people. That done, he managed to stop his people from seeking revenge and led them to the reconciliatory path that has guided them to this day and thus created what is now known as South Africa’s political miracle. This is the story that has brought us here today, where I can address you on a night when companies are being awarded for their empowerment credentials.

I love this Mandela-driven part of our history as a country.

When people from abroad ask me why I did not seek revenge, given what was done to me under apartheid, insisting that if they were in my shoes, they would have, it feels wonderful to be able to say; This is not the path we chose?

I love saying that, in politics, we chose to make peace with the past, leave it back there where it belongs and, together, looked to the future and asked, united as one people, what we would like to see there, what country we would like to build, explaining that this is how this unlikely marriage between the oppressor and the oppressed was forged.

It was not an easy marriage to bring to life because we came from such different worlds. But in the end, we agreed on a common view on how to handle religion. We came to an understanding about how to view sex and sexual orientation. We were in sink too about our political systems and the politics we wanted our country to subscribe to. And so, you can argue that we tackled the hardest issues and came to the conclusion that we could go down the isle for better or for worse until death did us part.

Sadly though, like most couples who marry, we never discussed financial issues.

This is a serious oversight because over 50% of all marriages end up in divorce because of financial incompatibility. For a country like ours, where the marriage covenant is between the super rich and the hungry and homeless, a disagreement that leads to the possibility of divorce could be deadly.

This is not difficult to understand given that there is very little use for freedom if you have no money to enjoy it with. What is the point of having the freedom to live anywhere you want to live in your country, when you can’t even afford the cost of materials to build a shack? By extension, the constitution holds no value for those amongst us who have nothing to protect. If my life is riddled with disease, no education, starvation and joblessness what value does the right to life hold in my life? If my life has no value to me, what value can your life have in my eyes? If I do not value life, who around me is safe? And if we are not safe, how can we call ourselves free?

This brings up the sad conclusion that South Africa’s Mandela-driven political miracle might be a sort of house of cards, a flimsy structure, built on quicksand, a disaster really, waiting to happen because too many amongst us have no means by which to enjoy its resultant fruits.

And so I have had to ask myself: Why is it that words like “empowerment” have become swearwords? Why have phrases like “economic freedom” become so thoroughly feared? And since when has the desire for wealth become a dirty desire? Why is it that this is the case in our nation when in other countries, better countries, countries with thriving economies, the need for economic emancipation, the desire for wealth and the ability to empower others are the very fuel for economic growth?

I was being interviewed on Radio 702 once. This young white man called in and said that he was leaving the country because, as a qualified metallurgical engineer he could not get a job in this country. He said he had gone to an interview where at the end he had been told that unfortunately he could not be hired because the position was reserved for blacks.

I asked him why he had been interviewed for an hour before anybody realized that he was white and therefore the wrong candidate for the job on offer. He said he did not know. I reminded him how long it takes to produce a metallurgical engineer and how few of them there are worldwide and asked him if he was sure that the company was willing to wait that long, some sixteen odd years, simply because he was white and they wanted blacks. He seemed confused. Then I said to him, son, go and brush up on your interview skills. I am convinced that your interviewer did not know how to tell you that you did something wrong at the interview, that you did not fit his company’s profile somehow, and lied to you.

This is one of the reasons why moneyed South Africa is resisting Black Economic Empowerment. We are constantly being fed the untruth that every time a white person fails, it is because there is a black person standing in the way. We are being fed the lie that black prosperity equals white poverty. A white kid goes for an interview, fails to impress and is told it is because of black job reservation when we all know that there is no such thing in South Africa as job reservation for blacks! When this rubbish is fed to us every day of our lives, we become an economically divided society with two communities standing against each other instead of standing together to prosper in unison.

The desire for South Africa’s economic success should be driven by the desire for each and every South African to see no South African living below the middle class line. The fear that has been instilled in us of the financial success of the other, the warped belief that one group’s success signals the demise of the other is unhealthy and wrong. It is holding us back from realizing our truest potential as a nation.

The fact is that since 1994, the rich of this country have become even richer than they were and could be under apartheid, richer than they have ever dreamed! During the same period, the gap between them and the poor has grown to the point where we have now surpassed Brazil, which had held that dubious distinction of having the widest gap between the rich and poor for quite some time. In a sense then, and ironically, South Africa’s political miracle has resulted in the impoverishment of the very people who brought it about.

There is, today, a desperate need for this country to correct this. Believe what you may, but if the wealthy of Zimbabwe had not hogged all the riches post Zimbabwean liberation, if they had not refused to hire poor Zimbabweans after Mugabe had educated them to the highest levels he possibly could and help them attain economic freedom, if those moneyed Zimbabweans had said to their poor counterparts, “We might come from a politically divided past, but we will forge an economically united future with you”, Mugabe would not have had anybody to incite to kill and plunder and ruin Zimbabwe’s economy.

Selfishness in the face of a generous people is a recipe for disaster.

The poor of South Africa fought the political fight and won. We could have gone to every rich home and slit every throat we could find and the world would have understood, given what we endured under apartheid. Instead, we chose to forget the past and build a political future that benefits all South Africans, rich and poor.

The time for this gesture of goodwill to find reward is long overdue.

Let’s face it, even Black Economic Empowerment, as it is practiced today does not begin to do this. We all know the model; A poor guy borrows money from the rich guy to buy 26% of the rich guy’s company. The government then rewards the rich guy’s company with contracts and accolades. The poor guy earns nothing because he is too busy paying off the highly inflated price of his share of the rich guy’s company while the rich guy makes more money than he has ever dreamed possible. The poor guy finally gets close to finishing paying off the rich guy but by then the rich guy has found a reason to kick out the poor guy and replace him with another poor guy who starts afresh, in debt. And so the cycle repeats itself.

It is a model, by the way, that says to poor people, you are useless on your own, so your own government won’t trust you with a contract unless you find a rich guy who is a majority shareholder in whatever vehicle you want us to give a contract to. It is a model that says to the rich guy, you are correct to think the poor guy is inferior. Let’s face it, what can he do without your help and say so? It is a toxic model based on prejudice that perpetuates apartheid in the economic arena today.

I pray that 100% of the companies being awarded here tonight do not operate like this. I pray that you all work differently.

Having said that, I’d like you to forget how you have worked up to date. Whether you were a generous giver or a selfish taker, forget that because I have a new challenge. Let us all join forces and together seek to create South Africa’s next miracle. Whatever you do as a company today, or as an individual citizen of this country, make it a challenge to contribute on a daily basis to the upliftment of all of South Africa to an economic status above the middle class. Let’s see if we can’t do this over the next twenty years. How can you and I, as companies and as individuals, contribute to making all of South Africa a middle class country by 2032?

Ask yourself this question. Ask it of any partner you might choose to work with. Ask of it as a test of whether or not any of your economic activities are of any value to this country. For what is economic prosperity if the majority is left outside the banquet hall but a recipe for calamity. The idea, you see, is to help this country rise, prosper and thrive economically in its totality. Japan’s economy is open for all Japanese people to thrive in it. Sweden’s economy does this. So does the German economy. China is working hard to get there and make all her citizens have an economic space to play in. We should not be left behind because of the remnants of our shameful apartheid past.

Having goodwill as a basic tenet for doing business.
Fostering a desire to rise with, and not at the expense of your neighbour.
Believing that to truly prosper and be safe, none of us must be left behind.
Having a deep love for this country’s citizens in their totality.

These are the principles that will bring us South Africa’s next miracle.

If you know that Bill Gates and his contemporaries in the early days of Silicon Valley believed in the simple fact that they could only become billionaires if all their colleagues could become millionaires, you will understand these principles. You are bound to reap more reward simply by making sure that those around you are not left to starve.

Empower with the view to uplifting South Africa in her totality. This is South Africa’s next and necessary miracle; Uplifting all of South Africa to live above the middle class line. Call it, “Beyond 2032”. This is the only miracle that will strengthen our political miracle and turn it into a properly anchored, steady and strong house that we can all live in, that safeguards us all and every one of our freedoms, that we can all be truly proud of. This is what Mandela’s political legacy was designed to help us achieve.

If our marriage crumbles, our country will go down in flames. We have to take this necessary next step. Otherwise Mandela’s entire life will have been in vain. We have all the rights that any human being needs to live a good political life, thanks to this great man. Now let’s improve on his legacy and help everybody generate the wealth to enjoy these rights with because the last thing this country needs is for the political marriage between the rich and the poor to end in divorce. Keeping this marriage alive is too big a job for our largely uninspiring and uninspired politicians. This is a job for you and I. This is a job for the fifty million. This is our job because this is our country.

Now please, if you have a glass in front of you, whatever is in it, raise it like so.

Thank you.

Now repeat after me:

”Beyond 2032”.

To all the winners tonight, congratulations. Well done. Now take it to this next level.

Thank you for listening.


25 Aug



25 Aug

12 June 2009, Rosebank, Jhb.

Ladies and gentlemen. Good evening.

I have just returned from a visit to four South American countries; Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina. Each impressed me in its own way. But it is hard for me to not single out Peru as probably the most outstanding of the four. Those of you who are familiar with Peru would probably guess that it is Machu Picchu that made Peru leave this indelible impression in my brain.

But you would be wrong.

Machu Picchu is breathtaking. You know, standing up on those mountains, that a people of profound imaginative power, engineering know-how and spiritual profundity built it. You are truly awe inspired just taking it all in as the clouds of mist reveal and obscure it throughout the morning, until the sun breaks through and this miracle city basks in the light.

This is true.

But what left me even more profoundly moved than this vision of Machu Picchu was Qoricancha in Cusco, the Inca capital of Peru those many years ago, before the Spanish conquistadores arrived in South America to impose their rule. Cusco was the Inca capital and Qoricancha, The Temple of the Sun, was to the Inca religion what the Vatican is to the Catholic Church. It is said that before Pizzaro and his fellow conquistadores looted Qoricancha it had gold sheets for wallpaper and a sun symbol made of pure gold that had a circumference larger than two meters. The masonry that was employed to shape the rocks that built Qoricancha was of such fine quality that there was no form of mortar needed to join together the stones that were cut and used to build the temple. Despite this, these stones were so well joined, that when an earthquake rocked Cusco in the nineteen fifties, more than three hundred years after the Incas built it, what the Spanish added to Qoricancha fell apart while what they built on, the Inca foundation walls, stayed intact.

I was moved by Qoricancha because today, it resembles to me, in many respects, what the South African economy looks like since the ANC took over in 1994.

This is how the Qoricancha of today looks; At its base, the foundation walls are essentially Inca built. Its rectangular courtyard shape was also the original Inca shape of the structure which had four constructions that were not joined but formed some kind of courtyard between them as each faced east, west, north and south respectively. The Spanish, on beating the Qechuas, the people whose kings are called Incas, later joined these structures to form one rectangular building with a courtyard at the center. Qoricancha’s top structure today is Spanish built. The place of worship, where the sun of gold was located during the rule of the Qechuas, is now a Catholic church, complete with a glass box in which there’s the statue of a bleeding Jesus in recline, with a crown of thorns.

I was trying to describe what this looked like to me to a fellow traveler and finally I just said that it is as though the Spanish found a clenched fist, and then put their hand over it to form an even bigger fist by obscuring the one underneath to relative invisibility. The end result is that of a rather disfigured fist that holds very little power to an outsider like myself looking in. The final product looks rather comical even as you sense the power that preceded this insane, new form of indeterminable shape. The Spanish were too impressed to kill off what the Incas built completely, but they were too proud to leave it standing intact. But, they had a duty to conquer and rule, so, they ended up with this rather tragic result. A weak hand over a strong fist trying hard to resemble and be a bigger and stronger fist. An impossible task if you consider that the hand on top has to control the fist underneath in addition to packing a strong punch. The result is a lot of dislocated energy and a fist with a lack of purpose.

This is our economy today.

Where the Spanish could have left Qoricancha standing and built their own church next to it, stronger looking, better designed, equally impressive if not more so, they chose to build on top of Qoricancha. Today nobody says; “I’m off to see the church that the Spanish built on top of Qoricancha”. Everybody says; “I’m off to see Qoricancha”. And when they get there, they find a mess.

This is our economy today.

Where the African National Congress led government that we have had up to now could have said; “It’s okay that the Openheimers, for instance, have built a De Beers and an Anglo American. It’s okay”. And then asked; “What can we build, now that we have the power to do so, that can rival, be equal to or be better than the Openheimer empires that will feed our people?”, before embarking on strategies to build black South Africa’s own Qoricanchas. The government we have had up to today did not do that. It decided instead to do what the Spanish did those many centuries ago through its Black Economic Empowerment policies.

In essence, at the core of BEE is the fundamental belief within our government structures that black South Africans have no ability to build, independently, the businesses that can lift them out of poverty. There is a basic belief there that black South Africans have to have white South Africans by their side otherwise they are doomed to fail in business. I will build my Catholic Church the Spaniards said, but I will build it on their Sun Temple. In the end what endures, even while disfigured, is the Temple of the Sun. And what the Spanish tried to do makes them look silly, petty, weak and rather mean.

This is black South Africa’s economy today. A black hand trying to form a bigger fist by putting itself over a white fist that keeps enduring while the black fist looks silly trying to control the ever stronger white fist.

I believe this to be a result of a backward looking mentality. Our government looked back in history and came to observe, correctly, that black people were the least educated, they were the least skilled, and so on and so forth. It looked at white South Africans and saw that they were the most educated, the most skilled, the most likely to succeed in business and came to the logical but sad conclusion that blacks were not good enough to walk alone in business, and that whites are built to be their necessary saviors. And thus the birth of our BEE policies.

Now, let’s take a look at the political side of the South African social landscape. When you take a good look at this, you realize quickly that nobody looked behind to make political leadership decisions to shape the future. If they had, they would have said; “Mandela was in a prison for 27 years breaking stones for goodness’ sake. He has no idea whatsoever of what Johannesburg looks like, let alone what the whole country looks like or what either one of these should look like in the future. He has never run a country in his life. He has not had real contact with people for far too long and therefore can’t truly know or even understand our needs”. Given this scenario, it would have made complete logical sense to say; “Mandela, please deputise De Klerk for a while, and if you learn fast enough, we’ll make you president”.

This did not happen because in politics, we looked to the future. We did not look at the past to judge who the best candidates were. We looked at what we wanted to build, we looked at the tomorrow that we knew was necessary for the whole country, and, based on this, we decided who should lead and what should be built. Using these criteria, there could be no better man for the job than a black man named Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela.

We have failed to do this in business.

The result of course is that there is very little movement towards a decent living standard for most black South Africans. We have failed to do this in business and the result is a lot of frustrated white businesspeople who see only the foundation of the businesses they have built try to survive as the top structures fall apart at every test because of a forced hybrid ownership. We have failed to apply the simple but profoundly wise logic that we have used on the political side of our country’s young new life and the result is a huge number of frustrated black professional businesspeople with the ability to learn fast and build new businesses as their own government sees no merit in trusting them to build something of their own. But instead forces them to marry partners who are happy, and should be happy, to live outside of a forced marriage.

Ironically, the Afrikaners understood this. They did not break down the then Barclays Bank or force Afrikaners on to the board of that bank. Instead, they started Volskas and Trustbank and other banks which later merged to become the mighty Absa bank of today which, ironically, has been bought by Barclays Bank which was ousted from South Africa during the apartheid days and is now chaired by an ANC stalwart, Gill Marcus. The Afrikaners did not break down or force Afrikaners on to the board of Anglo American. They started the IDC and formed new companies like Sasol that are run by Afrikaners and are today on the cutting edge of what the world needs and are highly profitable to boot. They did not fight for control of Old Mutual. They promoted the success of Sanlam.

It is easy to argue that one can do this a lot easier if one is racist and purely concerned with the sole advancement of one’s race. And that black South Africans are being held back in business because their government is more generous and considers everybody, including those with too much, to be equal to those with little or nothing and therefore finds it difficult to work in a Broederbond type of manner and march on a racist and exclusionary agenda.

To that I say; building something new in South Africa for a group that has little or nothing does not have to be exclusionary to the point of being racist. In fact, even as the Afrikaners excluded black people, they did not hinder or stop South African English speaking whites from doing business and advancing in that arena. This is despite the fact that the Angloboer war left no love lost between these two groups.

It is my belief that black South Africans can be trusted and supported to walk alone in business without discriminating against white people. I am convinced too that only when we do this can we truly change the economic plight of the majority of poor black South Africans for the better. As I often say; why would an English speaking man who does not know, respect or understand Pedi people find it worthwhile to replace all or most of his English speaking partners with Pedi, Zulu, Tsonga, Venda, Tswana, Ndebele, Siswati, Sotho, Xhosa or Khoi speaking people in a business that works quite well without them that he owns and has built over time?

This is the situation white South African businesses are being put in by the current implementation of South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment policies. It’s unhealthy for all. The whites are being forced to have partners they neither understand nor respect. The blacks are being told through this system that they are not good enough. In the end nobody wins and everybody suffers a little more than they should. In the meantime black people remain poor while, by and large, whites get richer than they have ever dreamed they would under a black government while pointing at the very few blacks who benefit through this inefficient system and saying; “All the opportunities are going to black people now that the ANC rules”.
And yet we all know that the South African economic environment must change to accommodate black South Africans without impoverishing white South Africans because what is the point of having the freedom to live anywhere in your country when you can’t afford to buy a house in the cheapest places in that country? What is the point of having a passport that is welcome anywhere in the world when you can’t afford to travel to any destination farther than your place of work where you get paid peanuts? What is the point of a constitution that protects your right to life when the life you lead is at times worse than the life of a homeless animal because you have no house, no education, no job and therefore no positive future to look forward to? What, in truth, is the point of freedom when you sleep hungry most nights?

It is therefore with immense pride and pleasure that I speak at this event tonight, where a number of black people, without any racist agenda in their thinking or belief systems, have come together to tell the world we are living in today that they are good enough to walk alone and deliver to the highest standards of the business consulting world. I will not go into the details of what Akanani does as its founders are best equipped to tell you that. But I will tell you this, that Akanani, a Tsonga word that means “Build each other up” is very apt for a business that is geared to help businesses and organizations function at their most optimal levels. I will tell you this too that I am very proud that, despite an environment that is geared to tell black people that they are not built to survive in business if they do not partner white people, there are black people who shut their ears to this absurd notion and go ahead and build their businesses anyway, as difficult, expensive and often unrewarding as it can be.

It is my profound and heartfelt hope that Akanani will be given its space in the business arena by some of you who are here tonight who have budgets to spend and consulting needs to be met. It is my deepest hope that everybody, black and white, will look at this company, judge it on its merits, look to the future and not the past and give it a chance to stand next to other businesses that have come before it in the same area of operation and allow it to positively contribute to the economic development of this beautiful country, South Africa.

Akanani is not a a hand forcing its fist over another fist to form a bigger looking but much weaker fist. It is a new fist, clenched tight and strong to pack a new and powerful punch for the development of our economy and the improvement of the economic plight of black people in our country.

Don’t let it die.

Keep it alive, especially if you are working in our government today. Give it contracts to deliver on. And make sure you do the same for other companies like it that need these contracts to employ more black people and fix the economic imbalances that apartheid created.

More than ever, what black South Africans need today is a big boost of economic confidence. It is profoundly important today to send a message to black people that says; “You, black South Africans, are good enough to uplift yourselves and therefore must do so”.

There is no better way to do this than to show faith in the businesses that black people build by hiring them, watching them fail sometimes, helping them improve and hiring them again until their brilliance is realized and they can stand tall next to all the companies that the colonialists built, that the architects of apartheid built. These are the companies that the future of this country needs to lower our unemployment rate and lift our people from the terrible shackles of poverty. No company but a black one will find it most natural to hire black people, train and uplift them than a black owned and run one.

In the future, black and white businesses can merge out of true reciprocal respect and commercial necessity which is how it should be. Not out of pity on the one side and insecurity on the other.

It is time to build black Qoricanchas in the South African business arena. For being part of the first group of people to attempt this tough but important task, I salute all the people at Akanani. To you, who have come here tonight in support of this great initiative, I urge you to never forget this day and to use that memory to keep supporting initiatives like this.

For listening to me, ladies and gentlemen, thank you. And good night.

By Eric Miyeni

An Open Letter to the ANC

23 Aug

Dear ANC

When you first came home, you were like a long lost parent to me. I had grown up with stories of your bravery; how you came in and out of the country under cover of darkness to bomb places, fighting for my freedom. Despite this, it was the Tsietsi Mashininis that truly moved me. It was the Stephen Bikos that were immediately inspiring to me. They were here – fighting here, dying here. You, on the other hand, were either in prison, in other lands or in legendary stories.

I felt skeptical ANC. I did not vote in 1994. When everybody queued to exercise their votes on that historic day, I was shooting a movie depicting South Africa as the rape capital of the world. It was fitting because apartheid was essentially about raping people spiritually, economically, socially, physically and in every other way that it could. I wanted to remind the world that we had a lot to undo, that voting alone was not going to solve all our problems.

I withheld my vote in 1994 because I did not know you then ANC, and wished to observe you from the sidelines first, to see if you could be trusted. Four years later, I was truly impressed by how well you had done since your return. I have since voted for you in every election we’ve held since 1994 and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Frankly, I don’t see who else can do a better job than you at the political helm of our nation, which is why I am angry at the media’s portrayal of you as a thieving, looting and immoral leader with no ethical boundaries.

It’s been seventeen years since you started running South Africa. An old petrol attendant summed up your leadership throughout this period when he told a friend of mine just before our latest local elections that if anyone should vote for you, it’s South Africa’s whites, because, in his opinion, nothing has changed.

In many respects the old man is right. Many black South Africans are worse off today than they were under apartheid. The gap between South Africa’s rich and poor is the widest on earth. In a nutshell, you have super-charged white people’s stockpiling of wealth, while black South Africans have remained where they were before 1994 or had their fortunes reversed. You have been a brilliant political fighter, but a dismal economic warrior for black South Africans.

Considering that we are in the midst of an economic war, I want you to know that South Africa’s white-owned media are fighting against the advancement of black people in the economic arena, using the same tactics they used during apartheid to block us from attaining political freedom when they used to scream “BLACK DANGER” at the top of their lungs and as often as possible. Those who consumed this media then saw black people as the scariest, least humane and the most crazed people on earth. South Africa’s white media sold this lie as truth in preparation for apartheid politicians to step in, detain us for as long as they wanted for whatever reason they deemed fit, torture us in whatever way they chose and murder us at will without guilt.

Today, this same white media use the same “black danger” tactics to hold black South Africans back on the economic front. The new lie that they are peddling is that we Africans are corrupt thieves who know nothing about financial matters and that, if we are entrusted with any part of our country’s economy, South Africa will become an economic basket case: “Black danger” all over again, by the same white media that did this to us during apartheid.

What I find disturbing about you ANC, is how you have been acting at the behest of this corrupt, racist and selfish media ever since you returned home; the countless number of your true friends that you have kicked in the teeth whenever a white headline traduced them. You did this to Mac Maharaj. You did this to Jacob Zuma. You did it to me twice at the SABC. And yet, when Garreth Cliff tweeted these horrible words: “Manto is dead. Good. A selfish and wicked bungler of the lowest order. Rotten attitude and rancid livers – all three of them …,” about one of your truest friends and followers, the late Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, you invited him for tea with President Zuma!

Your loyalty to whites, it would seem, is unwavering. Your loyalty to black people, on the other hand, extends as far as the white media dictate. To this day, ANC, you still haven’t honoured those black people who represented you internally while you were in exile through organizations such as the United Democratic Front, like the late Archie Gumede. Yet, you give lectures to honour your white comrades on an annual basis.

I wrote this letter, ANC, to remind you who put you in power; to tell you that our love for you is not unconditional and that your utter economic bias in favour of white South Africa at the expense of black South Africa is undoing all your victories.

When you look in the mirror next time ANC, I want you to remember who you are.

Sincerely yours

Eric Miyeni

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23 Aug

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