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


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