economic freedom

Scores of black professionals, the new so-called rand lords and social hangers-on converged on the Rand Club in the Johannesburg city centre this week.

Scores of black professionals, the new so-called rand lords and social hangers-on converged on the Rand Club in the Johannesburg city centre this week.

The club was founded by the former colonial and imperialist adventurist par excellence, Cecil John Rhodes.

When he founded it, Rhodes was clear about whom he wanted to mix with at the club. A sign at its entrance then read: "No dogs, blacks, women and Jews."

Post-1994, the club opened its membership to people of all races, religions and gender. It has since become a rendezvous for the movers and shakers of Gauteng.

On Tuesday night, the African Heritage Society - a forum for Pan African intellectual discourse - hosted a birthday dinner for Sello Rasethaba. The irrepressible Rasethaba turned 50 this year.

Educated in the US and the UK, Rasethaba is a businessman of note. He is also wellknown for his close relationship with slain mining magnate Brett Kebble. Under Kebble, JCI Limited signed a black economic empowerment deal with Rasethaba's investment company, Orlyfunt Holdings.

Kebble's death, under a cloud of fraud and corruption allegations, put Rasethaba and his partners under the spotlight.

Many commentators suggested that Orlyfunt would go down. However, the company survived and has since received funding from overseas to continue its business ventures.

In a bitter-sweet speech on Tuesday, Rasethaba took his guests down memory lane about what happened to him after Kebble's death.

He spoke about the stress and pain of having his company premises - on Harrison Street in the Johannesburg CBD - "invaded by forensic investigators and the Scorpions".

Rasethaba told his guests: "Even my wife started questioning whether I was not involved in fraud or corruption."

The investigation even led to a local financial institution withdrawing its loan for an Orlyfunt venture.

Rasethaba and Orlyfunt have survived and one of his assets, Letseng Diamond Mining in Lesotho, has even declared a dividend.

So what was the moral of Rasethaba's story.

Firstly, South Africans (especially the media) have a tendency to enjoy dancing on other people's graves. They also like writing epitaphs - particularly of those who are brave to venture into untested waters like big business, especially if such ventures involve black economic empowerment.

Rasethaba said every time journalists wrote about him, they spoke about "the Kebble-linked Rasethaba".

He said: "No one spoke about the US and UK-educated Rasethaba who started his first business at 20 or who, while based in the UK, was instrumental in acquiring scholarships for many South Africans who today are skilled engineers, auditors and economists."

His message to his guests was that South Africans - especially those with entrepreneurial drive - should not be cowed by pessimists. He also spoke about the importance of black people becoming financially literate.

"At 20, I opened my first bookkeeping business in Mokopane. I went bankrupt because I did not understand business," he said.

Rasethaba said the mistake he made was to think that the money he generated every month was profit.

"I used the money to buy a car, a house and booze for my friends."

Rasethaba's words ring true about many black entrepreneurs. How many times have we seen our black brothers starting businesses and then using the money to lead lavish lifestyles - and eventually running their businesses down?

These are individuals who, once they have established a business, spend most of their time in hotels, pubs and restaurants - drinking single malt whiskeys and Cognacs.

Instead of spending their time nurturing their businesses, they spend whatever little money these ventures are generating.

The very same principle applies to the mushrooming tender brigade. These individuals use their political connections to acquire tenders.

Once the money is transferred into their bank accounts, they forget about the cost of implementing the tender and they use the cash to buy designer clothes and SUVs. They also move into upmarket suburbs to match their newly acquired social status.

Unfortunately, these ventures are not examples of what Rasethaba refers to as "sustainable profitability".

Rasethaba said that it was time black people in this country used their majority advantage and became agents of change - in all spheres of society. Black people should contribute towards real black economic empowerment, Rasethaba said.

They should stop thinking that empowerment means having a 5 percent share holding in many companies because they are politically connected.

Rasethaba was essentially decrying what I refer to as the "hyena syndrome". Hyenas are basically scavengers surviving on remnants of killings by other predators such as lions.

Many so-called black entrepreneurs have turned into hyenas, biting off a 5percent here and a onepercent there in deals that are essentially run by white big business.

By so doing, these so-called entrepreneurs are behaving like they are not part of the black majority in this country - where they should be in charge of the deals.

For this to happen, they need skills and business expertise so that they are brought into ventures as equal partners.

Of course, for this to happen, the government must create a conducive environment by introducing legislation that would expose those seeking to undermine the black people's quest for economic freedom.

Most importantly, Rasethaba said, black business people had the responsibility to ensure that their businesses promote Africanism.

The Africanism that Rasethaba is speaking about is not an exclusive one or based on race - but one that says motho ke motho ka batho (no man is an island) and Bana ba motho ba ngwathelana hlogo ya tsie (one cannot progress through the oppression of others.)