Blacks need trophies too - Individual success a collective victory

South Africans are tired of political campaigns and analysis; all we want is to vote on Wednesday.

Let us escape from the noise of the elections, and talk about how nations derive pride from the private initiatives of few individuals.

South Africa is a lucky country. Nature decided to situate our land halfway from Europe to the East, and blessed us with beautiful mountains and fine weather. This made Europeans who were going elsewhere to settle permanently on our shores.

It did not stop there. Nature deposited vast quantities of mineral wealth beneath our soil, the discovery of which saw multitudes of foreigners descend on our land in search of fortunes. These foreigners brought good and bad things with them. They brought racism, slavery and land dispossession. They also brought science and development of which thinking black people are now proud.

In time, the nascent South African society congealed into distinct sub-nations, comprising Africans, Afrikaners, the English, Jews, and so on.

The evolution of these sub-nations testifies to the tenacity of conscious group development. From the early days of settlement, Afrikaners have been conscious of their group vulnerability and strength. They continue to derive pride from symbols of their collective progress.

After centuries of being despised as a backward nation by the English, they finally claimed their place in the sun when, as a collective, they could point at companies like Sanlam, Sasol and others as trophies of their intellectual capability.

It is the role of outstanding individuals such as Anton Rupert that this column is about. Over the years, the Ruperts have built massive businesses that forced the world to view Afrikaners as people who can think. The companies don't just belong to their families; all Afrikaners celebrate them as their collective symbol of success.

This applies to the companies founded by such outstanding individuals as Jannie Mouton, one of the influential members of the so-called "Stellenbosch mafia".

When Afrikaners look at Capitec Bank, they are filled with pride that one of their own, Mouton, has once again proved that their nation can think.

There is no space here to list all the achievements of Afrikaners in business, politics and the arts - they are many, and Afrikaners are proud of them.

When the English took over South Africa permanently after 1806, they too worked towards collective progress for their sub-nation. It was not until the discovery of diamonds in 1867 in Kimberley and gold in 1886 on the Witwatersrand that individual Englishmen could build symbols of their group success.

Of the Englishmen who left indelible marks on the face of our history, Cecil John Rhodes stands out. He built such enduring companies as De Beers, Gold Fields and others that continue to be the source of English pride today. Even the black students who hate Rhodes still study at universities he founded.

The Jews have also done well in South Africa. Towering individuals like Alfred Beit have bequeathed universities like Wits to us.

Johannesburg would not be what it is without Jews like Barney Barnato, and South Africa would certainly not be as industrialised as it is without Harry Oppenheimer. Jews are very proud of this heritage.

For ages, we black people have been writhing under the heel of successive oppressive white minority regimes. We were not allowed to build something resembling the corporate giants built by Englishmen, Jews and Afrikaners.

But individuals like Richard Maponya proved that blacks too can succeed in business . Herman Mashaba is another name we black people have been proud of, before he became a politician.

The mistake we blacks have made after 1994 was to embrace Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) uncritically.

While the idea in itself is not bad, BEE has facilitated the co-option of politically connected blacks into the boardrooms of white companies, thus producing black millionaires who manufacture nothing. Some BEE companies are black only nominally, run actually by whites.

But there is a new generation of companies founded by hard-working black individuals. These companies promise to make our children proud of being black. They include Power FM, founded by Given Mkhari; SikelaXabisa, founded by Abel Dlamini; and Inkunzi Investments, founded by Owen Nkomo - to name a few.

Over time, these and other companies promise to become black people's trophies of intellectual success. Hopefully their founders are aware that the companies belong to all of us as black people.

One of the biggest challenges we blacks face is the reluctance to celebrate and own the achievements of individuals as a mark of our collective progress.

Maybe we will talk about it after the elections.

X