Language: A Useful Tool in Exclusion

A broad, and socially accepted definition of commerce is simply the activity of buying and selling. Trade, is defined as the act of buying and selling goods and services. These are but two of many terms which, used collectively, make up the jargon used to construct the South African economy. This jargon, language, is the point of departure in attempting to understand why the majority of black South Africans are still excluded in South Africa’s mainstream economy and, consequently, its benefits.

When playing economics in South Africa, one often hears, and utters, words like hawkers, informal traders, the black market, oonoztand (stand people), street pedlars, without observing the (deliberately) negative connotations these labels have on black men and women who, more than anyone, live the economic principle of scarcity. Its one thing to have scarce or limited resources, these men and women have nothing at all, yet they still manage establish themselves, albeit at the periphery, in a system that is designed to exclude them.

The legitimate business people we call hawkers and informal traders are not only excluded structurally and institutionally in our economy, but the everyday language we use in business seeks to delegitimise their legitimate and legal business activities. Take fruit and vegetable stalls for instance, the owners buy or produce fruit and vegetables, and then sell them to willing buyers on the street; an act of buying (or producing) and selling. Why is that not called commerce? Why is it called informal trade, instead of just trade? Is it because they have no access to land nor capital to build the fancy air conditioned fruit and veg cities of this world?

The other day, while loitering around Pretoria CBD looking  for a retailer for my monthly supply of veggies, I walked past Shoprite in Church Square. In front of Shoprite are a number of fruit and vegetable traders with stalls set up (in a formal shopping mall, they would be called pop up stores). I decide to buy from the stalls outside instead of inside Shoprite. The first thing I noticed is that: fruit is fruit and veg is veg, as long as they are not rotten. Onions from the stalls outside are just the same as the onions inside Shoprite. The second thing I noticed is that the onions on the stalls outside are much cheaper than the formal onions of Shoprite. I bought more than a month’s supply of vegetables for less than R100! And, something you would not believe, they are still in my fresh in my fridge. OMG! Who would have thought!

What I am trying to say is, the use of language in the South African trade and commerce front suggests that there is a distinction and segregation between black business and white business. Anyway, besides language, that distinction and segregation is clear in terms of access to capital and markets.

Above that, these business people not only face a focused attempt to delegitimise their commercial activities, they also face an attempt to criminalise their activities. It has become a familiar sight to see these business people being harassed by police, being the subjects of random searches and all. I have never heard of any of the big corporates, even those ones who outrightly break the law, being subjected to random searches.

As if that is not enough, even legislation is against these business people. take, for example, some of the municipal by laws of the Joburg metro with respect to informal traders:

  • The (municipal) council may declare any place in its area of jurisdiction to be an area in which informal trading is prohibited.
  • An authorised official may remove or impound any property of an informal trader which (a) he or she reasonably suspects is being used or which is intended to be used or has been used for or in connection with informal trading and (b) is found at a place where informal trading is prohibited.
  • Informal traders are not permitted to create smoke, fumes, odours, noise, or pollution of any kind.

These are just 3 by laws among quite a few. And one can immediately observe the difference in treatment of informal traders and mainstream, formal, business. There are areas where informal traders are prohibited from operating, notwithstanding the possibility of any demand for their goods and services in these areas. Yet mainstream business is allowed to operate almost anywhere, anytime, and as we see everyday, anyhow.

The property of an informal trader is not protected, as is that of mainstream, formal, business.

Informal traders, oomama noo tata bethu (our mothers and fathers), may not, under any circumstances, create smoke, fumes, noise, even if those elements are products of the fusing of inputs to their operations. Needless to say, it is only formal business that can do this. They are the only ones who are allowed to poison the environment and make a profit from it.

The reason I wrote this, is, that I would like to make a call to lovers of progress in general, and black people in particular, to observe the language we use. The black men and women who weather the storms and sit everyday along the side of the road in the name of commerce and trade, are legitimate business people. And that is what we should start calling them, instead of words that are deliberately used to denigrate and malign their commercial activity.

Considering the fact that these business people have very little to no resources, I would say they are more advanced business people than most, if the respected economic principle is anything to go by.

They are business people. Qha.


Linda Sidumo is a BCom graduate, a public servant, and chairperson of the Education Access Campaign ( Views expressed are strictly his views and do not represent the views of any organisation or group of persons.


Mandela Day and The Politics of Absolution

What would the children of the rich do with themselves without the poor?

An interesting question.

As we are nearing the 18th of July, the birthdate of the world’s most loved statesman, Nelson Mandela, and International Mandela Day, all sectors of South African society are busy, none more than the private sector. Orphanage homes are going to be painted, groceries are going to be bought and sent to poor households, one day soup kitchens will be run, parks will be cleaned, and more. The day is usually eventful, as we will probably see on social media and company websites, television, we will even hear about it on radio. For one day in 365, the citizens of South Africa and the world will be ‘helping the poor’. Its the ONE DAY the world goes crazy in public displays of compassion.

The actual impact of this day, however, in my opinion, is grossly exaggerated. Especially when one weighs the resources that are available against the actual impact achieved. Very few of the acts and deeds performed on Mandela day are sustainable. And I refuse to believe that this is an oversight on the part of Mandela Day philantropists. So, why is Mandela day, and all it comes with, so important to those in power, especially the rich?

The answer lies in the history of South Africa, and also the class dynamics and relations between the haves and the have nots in neo liberal capitalist South Africa.

The country we see as South Africa was built on the backs of cheap black working class labour. The foundations of our country were cemented with oppression. The walls of the buildings that tower over our cities were plastered with the desperation of poor black migrant labourers. Centuries of oppressive white rule engineered a white supremacist system so sophisticated that even 22 years into democratic rule we are still living with the inequality and poverty that were the core of anti black Apartheid ideology.


South Africa currently tops the world inequality rankings. We are the most unequal society in the world. And the inequality of South Africa is racialised, that is a point we must never get tired of emphasising. Where there is inequality, within a framework of neo liberal capitalist politics, there is bound to be exploitation. And we need look no further than the private sector to witness such exploitation.

Exploitation is so ubiquitous in South Africa that in some industries it has become a pandemic. The working class literally lose their lives working to create wealth they will never taste. A case in point would be the silicosis issue in the mining, construction, ceramic, and other industries, where those who die get peanuts while the corporates continue making billions. These workers have to threaten war just to get a 5% salary increase, while managers and the upper echelons of corporates give themselves salary increases well above any inflation. Our people battle just to receive a living wage. Is it not a wonder, that they are still alive? That is the reality of the relationship between corporates and workers in South Africa, all through the year, year after year.

Why am I saying all this? I don’t really know, but somehow I think Mandela day and exploitation are linked in a way.

Picture this for a moment, and ask yourself if it makes sense. A corporate that exploits workers and gives them wages that are just enough to get them to work every shift, goes out and gives groceries to a poor woman and her children and does all the things that gives us butterflies in our stomachs on Mandela day, and then the very next day goes back to its modus operandi: exploitation of the man who is the husband of the woman and the father of the children who are recipients of the oh so generous gift of groceries. The thought certainly does something to my stomach, and I am not sure I want to call it butterflies.


Mandela Day is an opportunity for the exploiting class to give themselves a sense that they have been absolved of their exploitive practices. It is an occasion that gives corporates a platform to mitigate the very inequalities that their presence compounds.

So, what I am saying is, the sincerity of the efforts of corporates on Mandela day are questionable. Sure, if their aim is to give a poor person a grocery pack for one day in a year, then they are on the right track. But if their aim is to contribute to ending inequality, fighting poverty, and building a more inclusive economy, then its going to take more than Mandela day orphanage painting activities. It will take them dismantling the structural, institutionalised, and systemic racism and inequality which are the basis of all their decisions, individual and collective.

It will take corporate SA realising that workers are co creators of the wealth they (corporate SA) enjoy. It will take white CEOs realising that transformation is not reverse racism, but a method to correct the injustices and inequalities their (white CEOs) forefathers engineered. It will take them realising that human life, black human life, is more important than profits. Mandela day means absolutely nothing without structural, institutional, and systemic change in South Africa. Surely we cannot attempt to change the material conditions of the poor by painting their homes for one day and go home to Sandton thinking that we have made a difference in the lives of the people of Alexandra. What the poor need is not Mandela day, what the poor need is a lifetime of living within or above a certain quality of life deemed proper for humanity.

I am not saying Mandela day is bad. No. It is always a good thing to do good. But when the rich perpetuate poverty and inequality and pacify the poor under the guise of Mandela day philanthropy, it becomes a big problem.

Before we take as granted the sincerity and genuineness of the efforts of corporate South Africa on Mandela day, let us ask ourselves: What will the rich do with themselves without the poor?

Linda Sidumo is a BCom graduate, a public servant, and chairperson of the Education Access Campaign NPO. Views expressed are strictly his own and do not represent the views of any organisation or group of persons.


Thoughts Of A Kasi Mpatha Turned City Radical

Tupac Amaru Sharkur once said ‘Life in the hood is all good for nobody‘. I agree. But there is something glorious about growing up around violent poverty and coming out alive, to say the least.

Growing up in a dusty, tarless town(ship) in the former Transkei where, currently, majority of people live on less than R20 a day, was something of an experience. Cala, that is the name of the place. A hub of political activism during the days of the struggle for liberation, it has produced leaders such as the Ntsebeza brothers, Gwede Mantashe, Wiseman Nkuhlu, Ayanda Ntsaluba, Weziwe Tikana, Zingisa Mkabile, to mention but a few. It has also produced martyrs: the names Batandwa Ndondo, Vuyani Namba, Phumezo Nxiweni, Vintwembi Manzana come to mind.

Cala, among its uncelebrated conceptions, also produced me, a relative nobody really. Growing up, I had always heard stories about the heroes and heroines that were born of Cala. I have heard stories of how the then Prime Minister of ‘independent’ Transkei and Paramount Chief of Emigrant Thembuland, Kaizer Daliwonga Matanzima, often targeted the Xhalanga District, as he knew that it was a hub of political activism and radicalism, and opposition to his political rule. I have heard chilling stories about the decapitation of Vintwembi Manzana and the gunning down of Batandwa Ndondo.

These stories somehow instilled in me a sense of responsibility at a very young age.  It ingrained in me the sense that I and my peers had to carry on this legacy of defiance, intellectualism, and service to humanity, and pass it on to the next generation of Calaians.

Officially, Cala is a town. Its social and economic outlook, and lifestyle of its citizenry, however, paints a picture of a rural township. A ‘kasi‘, to use modern South African slang. In any township setting, the male youths will be divided into ookleva and abaxhaga or iimpatha. I see myself as having been impatha all my life. I have probably had 3 or 4 real fights in my entire childhood and adolescence, I was never a smooth talker with the ladies, so I could not have been a kleva. But, I was always a defiant mpatha, and that earned me the nickname Rude Boy at age 13 at the multiracial primary school I went to, Cala International School (later Cala Community School). I was always, always in detention, together with my partners in defiance Lita Mayekiso, the late Sinawo Peter, Wonga Gobodo, Buzwe Mkabile (then headboy of the school), and Akhona Manzana. Interestingly, one of the things that got us in trouble was that we defied a rule that forced us to speak English. For every Xhosa word used, one was expected to pay 50 cents. Now even though we knew English very well, we refused to use the language under conditions of tactical intimidation.

Even as young men, we were never ookleva, but we always knew how to stand our ground. I remember one day, one of our friends was arrested. He was being accused by his girlfriend of stealing the girlfriend’s  underwear and trousers. Furious, we went to the police station and demanded that he be released, and told the police not to be stupid “because there is nothing this man can do with old women’s underwear and trousers”. He was released.

Cala was not without violence, particularly physical violence. So one had to grow up around that culture of blackness being intertwined and synonymous with violence and activism.

When I came to the city of Johannesburg, I realised that things were different here. Geographic settlement patterns which were a legacy of colonialism and Apartheid were very much in place. Black people worked in Johannesburg CBD, yet lived in Soweto. This means that from the little they get as wages they must make sure that there is a considerable percentage they must set aside for transport.

The language issue was very much alive, although no one wanted my 50 cents for not speaking English. Here, one has to speak English or they pay with their social, professional, and economic mobility. I once had an argument with a white man about race, and I got fed up and started speaking my mother tongue: Xhosa. That man told me that I can be proud all I want and speak my Xhosa, but THAT (meaning every) job application will still be in English! I could not answer, I was extremely wounded by this statement from this white man. In the land of my forefathers, I had no hope of ever finding a job or economic prosperity if I insist on speaking my own indigenous language.

In Johannesburg, I learnt that economic prosperity was owned exclusively by white people, and a few black elite, with the rest of the black majority being slaves to a racist capitalist order, and wallowing in poverty. Now, to say there are no rich black people would be a lie, there are. But, as one American comedian put it, black people have to fly to get to where white people walk to. This man was speaking as a minority in America. here, we are the majority, yet the same is still true.

Back home I was taught that education is a means to empower oneself, especially economically. Here in Johannesburg I saw that the councils of premier universities such as Wits, whose graduates get absorbed at a far higher rate than graduates of other universities, raise fees exorbitantly. In light of the very visible and obvious fact that the majority of South Africans, who happen to be black, are poor, this means that this is a deliberate attempt to exclude black students from the so called premier universities.

In Johannesburg, I saw that in the workplace management and decision making, especially in labour intensive industries, is white in colour, with a few black sprinkles. The cappuccinoism that I always speak of. It is government that employs black people in numbers in all employment levels. The private sector, where capital operates, is a different story.

Here, violence is not only physical, it is also structural, institutional, and systematic. Nobody gives a damn about klapping anyone here. You will see violence when you go to the mines and see scores of black people go underground in scorching underground heat and dangerous working conditions digging for minerals and co creating wealth they and their offspring will never get to see, let alone enjoy. The violence of racial exploitation, that is. One sees violence when one goes to Alexandra township and experiences poverty, yet in the same space looks across the road and sees the wealth of Sandton, co built, ironically, by the residents of Alexandra.

Everything I have mentioned above has created the radical thinker that is me today. I used to be ashamed of being radical, I used to think I was destroying more than building. It took a young lady whose name I have forgotten to convince me that ‘radicalism is not radical at all, it is common sense’. She was right. It is merely common sense to want the South African workplace to reflect the country’s demographics. It is common sense to seek a more representative economy. It is common sense to support a call that says #FeesMustFall at Wits and all other universities. It is common sense to seek the fall of structural and systematic racism. It is common sense to call for the decolonisation of our spaces, learning, and institutions. It is common sense to want OUR land redistributed. It is all just common sense.

The black body has been subjected to violence for centuries. Here in South Africa, when we got an upper hand against our oppressors, we chose to forgive rather than avenge, which is the noble and humane thing to do. But forgiveness alone will not maintain peace in South Africa with its history. An absolute pre requisite to any genuine peace and reconciliation is radical transformation and redistribution, a complete obliteration of colonial legacies, and an elimination of racial and oppressive monopolies, especially in key sectors of our economy.

This is just the thoughts of a Cala boy who came to the city and became radical. Maybe I need to pay my daughter 50 cents for every Xhosa word she uses.



Linda Sidumo is a Bachelor of Commerce graduate majoring in Logistics (UNISA), an Honours student at University of Johannesburg, and an employee in the Transport and Logistics industry. Views expressed are strictly his own and are not in any way those of any organization or other persons. Follow him on twitter @TshaweNkosi.




Herman Mashaba and the DA’s Battle for Voters Who Are Black, Like Me

What if I presented to you, the reader, a man who is black but does not want to be called black? What if I then presented to you a man who has benefitted from Black Economic Empowerment deals, yet now condemns BEE as racism? What if I then proceeded to ask you who, among these two men, is being more hypocritical than the other? Wait, before you answer, let me make this task easier for you, the reader, and reveal that these two men are actually one and the same man. His name is Herman Mashaba, a man famous, ironically, for owning hair care brand Black Like Me, and is now DA candidate for Joburg City Mayor.

With local government elections nearing in South Africa, political parties are strategizing on how to maximise on the mobilisation of the electorate. The DA is no exception, as we see them chase after the ever elusive black vote. And the black vote will continue to elude them because, simply put, the DA just does not understand black people and they fail to acknowledge and properly articulate the black condition. They seem to think that merely putting forward black faces for leadership positions will do the trick. It will not. Positioning the likes of Herman Mashaba, who speaks against transformation and black empowerment, as one of their faces will further frustrate their efforts and attempts to rake in the black vote.

Herman Mashaba has had a lot to say in the preceding weeks, particularly about race, black empowerment, and transformation. He has come out publicly and said that he does not want to be referred to as black. Ironic that he chose the words ‘Black Like Me’ to name his product offering. All this in a time of the revival of black radical politics and consciousness in South Africa. He seems to think that black people do not love and embrace their blackness. Well, we do. Bantu Biko, in 1978, said “being black is not a matter of pigmentation- being black is a reflection of a mental attitude”. The same giant of Africa’s liberation, in the same year, said “The essence of Black Consciousness is the realisation by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression – the blackness of their skin…”. In the context of Biko’s words, maybe Herman Mashaba truly believes he is not black and resents being labelled or referred to as black. The DA, by positioning Mashaba in their leadership structure, have proved once again that they do not understand black voters. Black people will always rally around the cause of their oppression, as Biko says, for as long as they feel oppressed, which they are. They will not rally behind a party that does not acknowledge the black condition and its historical context.

Herman Mashaba prefers to be called South African. He prefers everyone to be called South African. That is noble, but that pattern of thinking fails to acknowledge that South Africa still is divided along racial lines, especially in terms of wealth and priviledge. It fails to acknowledge that the economy is in white hands. It fails to acknowledge that the land is still in white hands. It fails to acknowledge the South African private sector’s blatant disregard for transformation. It fails to acknowledge the racial nature of inequality in South Africa. It fails to acknowledge the structural, institutional, and systematic racism that exists in South Africa. It fails to acknowledge that white South Africans and Black South Africans are just not equal. These injustices are all perpetuated along racial lines, so it logically follows that redressing them should be done along racial lines. This requires identification of the race that is adversely affected by these injustices with a view to bringing about social justice, and that race is black.

It can never be emphasised too much that our history necessitates transformation. Transformation is an absolute pre requisite for any genuine reconciliation. It baffles me, therefore, that anyone would think that transformation, BEE, and Employment Equity are just another form of ‘legalised racism’. It is even more incomprehensible that someone such as Herman Mashaba, himself having benefitted from BEE deals more than once, would now come out and call for a complete scrapping of all affirmative action laws. He is being a hypocrite, in spectacular fashion. If he believes that all affirmative action laws must be scrapped then the first thing he must do is to forfeit any and every asset and economic benefit accrued to him because of BEE and other affirmative action laws, if he wants to be taken seriously. Surely he cannot accept and keep wealth built on what he calls racist laws and premises.

Black people in general, and workers and the poor in particular, constitute the majority of citizens in South Africa. Their exploitation as workers and their poverty as the poor is not a mistake or freak of nature. It is something that was engineered deliberately in our history. Ours now is to un-engineer it along the same lines that were used when the initial engineering was happening. Workers and the poor, and black people in general, must have increased access to everything in this country. The class and social mobility of black people, which was deliberately slackened to almost a halt during Apartheid, must be a priority under a government based on the will of the people. It therefore stands to reason that these majority people cannot vote for a party whose representatives call for the scrapping of laws that seek to transform society and transform their lives for the better.

We have seen, and are aware of, this cappuccinoism that is replacing true and genuine transformation, where one or two black faces are put forward as faces at the top of organisations and corporates, with the rest of the decision making apparatus remaining white within those organisations and corporates, and I and those who think like me reject it. Also, I and those who think like me reject gradualism and the politics of patience. Justice delayed is justice denied.



Linda Sidumo is a BCom graduate, an employee in the transport industry, and chairperson of the Education Access Campaign. Views expressed are strictly his own and do not represent the views of any other organisation or group of persons. Follow him on twitter @TshaweNkosi

Pseudo-Transformation in the Road Transport and Logistics Industry: A Young Professional’s Perspective

Since its deregulation in the 1980’s, road transport has become the most popular mode of commercial transport in South Africa, surpassing its land transport counterpart, rail transport, by a huge margin. Commercial road transport is an industry that rakes in billions of Rands in profit annually. And that makes sense, considering that it is an industry that is seen as the heartbeat of economic activity, for without transport economic activity comes to a screeching halt (pun intended). The industry is, therefore, critical to the realization of economic growth not only in South Africa but the region and indeed the continent as a whole. All this paints a rather heroic, almost patriotic image of the industry; the industry that drives economic activity towards the realization of economic growth. Sounds heroic doesn’t it? It would be heroic, if it were not for the fact that this industry is one of those whose management is white in complexion and hard labour black in complexion, an industry which refuses to transform.

The Employment Equity Act no. 55 of 1998 requires of all employers to draw up employment equity plans within their respective organisations. The aim of this is to ensure that corporates and entities in South Africa comply with employment equity and embrace transformation. To comply with the act is one thing, to embrace transformation is another, and the latter seems to be the hardest to do and affects the effectiveness of the former. The latter has to do with mental attitudes, mental attitudes towards transformation, and that is the biggest challenge facing this, and many other industries in South Africa with respect to transformation. When one hears (white) decision makers argue that transformation and affirmative action is just reverse racism, we know we still have a long way to go.

A question that I want to ask is this: Is there transformation in the road freight logistics industry? I will answer myself. In my humble but professional and educated opinion, no there is not. But before I elaborate, let me briefly educate some on transformation. When I, and many others, speak of transformation, we are not talking about merely “giving” jobs to black people or giving them board membership status undeservedly just because they are black. Transformation is about creating equal opportunities. It is concerned with an ideal socio economic and professional space in which a black person and a white person have equal chances of prospering and have equal social and economic mobility. This is not the case in this particular industry, even with the numerous transformatory legislative frameworks that exist in South Africa.

The road transport industry is one in which white males dominate to a very large extent, they occupy more than 85% of management, senior management, and executive management positions. It is worth noting that, according to Census 2011, whites (male and female) make up 8.9% of the population. White males are even less, yet they dominate an entire industry. The industry is neither race nor gender transformed. And, as a knowledgeable citizen of South Africa, I am quite certain that this narrative extends across industries in our beloved country.

Black people, on the other hand, are the proverbial drawers of water and hewers of wood for the white masters of the industry. In this industry, you will find black people concentrated in the low level jobs; cleaners, drivers, pickers, general workers, depot supervision (a very tiring, low paying, and shift prone job, as fancy as it sounds!), and 2 or 3 depot (junior) managers. This is not, as some like to argue, due to the shortage of qualified and educated black professionals in this industry. South African universities are producing qualified transport and logistics graduates and professionals in large numbers. This situation is due to the fact that, as one African American comedian put it, in the workplace “black people have to fly to get to where white people walk to”. This is a situation that must change sooner rather than later.

Another problem evident in this industry in inequality, which in South Africa is racially structured. To illustrate this point, drivers work very awkward shifts, being away from their families at night for hours on end, compromising their families, compromising their safety, to co create wealth they never even get to see. And for this they get paid a pittance. It is a struggle for them to even get a living wage, let alone a raise. And, as you might have guessed, when things go wrong they are the first to be fired. Their livelihoods, as small as they are, are constantly at risk of being ended anytime. They are the sacrificial lambs at the altar of wealth creation, as are many black people at the altar of reconciliation and the rainbow nation project.

A crucial question arises: What of the requirements of the Employment Equity Act? Although most, if not all companies, in this industry have programmes and initiatives in place to “address” transformation, I feel that these are not genuine at best and are not implemented at worst. Hence my heading mentions pseudo transformation. The mental attitudes that are the sine qua non to embark on and realize true and genuine transformation are lacking in this industry. What exists is pseudo transformation designed to pacify those who agitate for true transformation. This situation, it must fall.

By writing this, I am conscious of the fact that I am sabotaging my own chances of ever being employed in this industry. But my conscience does not allow me to keep quiet. I must say something, with the hope that my words will lead to some form of focused action towards transforming this industry.

Linda Sidumo is a Bachelor of Commerce graduate majoring in Logistics (UNISA), an Honours student at University of Johannesburg, and an employee in the Transport and Logistics industry. Views expressed are strictly his own and are not in any way those of any organization or other persons. Follow him on twitter @TshaweNkosi.

South Africa: The Desired Socio-economic Paradigm

It is no secret that the South African economy is in the hands of a minority population group, white people. Prosperity, therefore, in its economic sense is white in complexion. I have said it before and i will say it again that it is an injustice not only to black people but to the nation as a whole for a majority population group to continue to be structurally and systematically marginalised economically. We all make a lot of noise about transformation, something I am passionate about, but progress in this regard is unacceptably slow. A key social indicator that transformation has taken place is the elimination of systematic poverty. In the case of South Africa, we also need to eliminate the racial structure of such systematic poverty. This will lead to reduced inequality, both in the class and race paradigms of such inequality. So what do we need to focus on to make sure that all this happens? The answer lies in what I believe are the cornerstones of structural racism: Capital, the market place, and the workplace, with capital being the overarching and over-powering of the three.


Capital is a super power in South Africa. Its power is rooted in its ownership of the means of production and economic resources. It should be noted that capital in South Africa is a monopoly in the hands of a white minority. This means that white capitalists have structural power over South Africa and its economy, and consequently society.This gives rise to the structural racism that the majority of black people in South Africa, who are a majority population group themselves, most often experience. It is my belief that capital is so powerful that organised capital, which is usually the formation that capital takes – organised, has a louder voice in infuencing the state than any other group or formation. The threats of disinvestment which leads to a collapse of the economy are enough to scare off any leftist or socialist policies which would be attempting to make their way up and position themselves in the state. Capital does not need political power, nor does it need to be in government, to remain powerful. It only needs what it already has: structural power and ownership of means of production. But it does need the labour of the working class to remain productive. Therein lies the power of the working class in forcing capital to make some concessions and relieving the stranglehold capital has over society. It is often the position of many capitalists and those who think along neo-liberal lines that it is capitalists that create wealth, and it is them alone. I disagree with that view, because in my view it is not only them who create the wealth. Labour, with their effort, energy, and physical work, co create wealth together with capital through the employment relationship within the framework of the laws of the land. The working class are the proverbial drawers of water and heuwers of wood for industry in South Africa. They are the worker bees who work for the hive but never get to taste the honey. One would ask, then, having this paradigm, why capital still has so much power over basically everything, yet they are only co creators of wealth? the answer is hunger and poverty. One should never underestimate the power of poverty in rendering people submissive. South Africa, therefore, to correct this situation, needs to create a black capitalist class so that capital becomes representative of the diverse make up of the South African population. Although this will not eliminate class inequality, it will go a long way in eliminating racial inequality. Also, black South Africans themselves need to create entrepreneurs of themselves. It is not ideal for black South Africans to expect entrepreneurship to be thrust upon them, they need to actively seek out entrepreneurial opportunities, with the state actively assisting them in this regard. This does not come without a certain bias. The bias is necessary in order to transform South African society. To wait for capital to decide to transform would be like waiting for a lion to one day decide it will not eat a buffalo because it is wrong to do so. The scenario is highly unlikely. Government must focus efforts at ensuring that the business environment is such that wealth is maximised, and in the same space ensure that transformation is not a choice but a mandate for those who want to maximise wealth. Policies must be explored where these two go hand in hand: wealth creation and transformation.

The Market Place

The South African market place is dual in nature and neo liberal in outlook. Dual because there are two sectors within the same market: the formal and informal markets. Neo liberal because ours is largely a free market where market forces are “free” to interact with very little regulation. It has always been my view that to jump from colonialism and apartheid straight to liberalism does nothing for the previously oppressed. In fact, it entrenches the ills of past discriminatory regimes. The children of the oppressors have more to gain in a liberal setting than the children of the oppressed, especially in the unique context of South Africa. It must be highlighted that, again, the two markets are racially structured, with the formal markets where the real wealth is created dominated by whites, and the informal markets where no real wealth is created being dominated by blacks. Government has introduced measures and transformatory legislative frameworks, such as BEE and preferential procurement, in an attempt to tilt the South African market place in favour of previously disadvantaged people and groups, but this has had very little effect, with most of the private sector refusing to adopt real and ambitious transformation plans, especially in their procurement and employment strategies. It becomes clear that capital, through control of market forces, is unwilling to transform. There is very little empowerment of SMME’s and black suppliers in the private sector.

The Workplace

Government is still the biggest employer of black people in South Africa. In the private sector, the rate of absorption of black people is still considerably lower than is the case with their white counterparts, in all education levels. Particularly in the labour intensive industries, 90% of all management and decision making roles are occupied by white people, with the low level, hard labour jobs being occupied by black people. This paints a very depressing picture of the South African workplace. The South African workplace is a classic example where, in the words of one famous American comedian, “Black people have to fly in order to get to where white people walk to…” Government has again tried to intervene by introducing employment equity and affirmative action. But these are merely words without the will and action by private sector. The private sector is expected to draw up EE plans, usually over a three year or five year period. Most private sector companies do have these plans on paper in their files, but more often than not these are just for the purposes of compliance. They are unambitious at best and non existent at worst. It must be understood by all that it is all good and well for Government to lead initiatives in an attempt to transform South African society, but without capital, the market, and business’ input and effort there can be no transformation. Government alone cannot transform anything. The workplace presents a key opportunity for real transformation, where black men and women raised by working class parents can become the emerging middle class, who will in turn raise the black upper income and capitalist class. But only if the private sector comes to the party. Universities have a role to play in transforming the South African workplace. The current situation where students are merely being taught (besides their curriculum) how to fit into a workplace dominated by western constructs must be interrogated. But to properly interrogate that we must first interrogate the structural and institutional make up and character of South African universities, particularly the premier universities such as Wits and UCT. Students should rather be taught to stand out than to fit in. It must be understood by universities, for example, that etiquette does not transcend cultural backgounds. To look at an elder in the eye is a sign of honesty in white culture, but is a sign of disrespect in African culture. An African student cannot, therefore, be expected to look at interview panel members in the eye during interviews, because that is not the etiquette the student grew up with. It should rather be a choice than an imposed societal expectation.

The Desired Paradigm?

An ideal society would be one where all people of all population groups not only share equally in the wealth of the nation, but also share equally in poverty as well. If there is wealth and economic prosperity, let all, black and white, colored and Indian, share in that wealth and economic prosperity equally. If there is poverty, let all, black and white, colored and Indian, share in that poverty equally. Poverty cannot be for one race, and economic prosperity for another. As for class inequalities, I believe that in the South African situation class inequalities cannot be adressed without first, or simultaneously, adressing racial inequalities.

The struggle continues.

Linda Sidumo is a Bachelor of Commerce graduate majoring in Logistics (UNISA), an Honours student at University of Johannesburg, and an employee in the Transport and Logistics industry. Views expressed are strictly his own. Follow him on twitter @TshaweNkosi.

Transformation and The South African Situation

The truth is that in South Africa we live in an unjust society. We live in a society where nothing is proportionally representative of the population of the country, not even poverty! The situation we live in is one which I have become obsessed with, and my obsession grows as I grow. My obsession is not with who is to blame, but rather what can be done to change and rectify the status quo. My obsession has found a home in what we call transformation. But what is this transformation? What exactly must be transformed?

Transformation is a very broad concept, and in the context of South Africa the word is used interchangeably with words such as Affirmative Action, Employment Equity, and Black Economic Empowerment. In my view, these are merely sub themes or sub concepts, the action components, of the greater transformation concept. Transformation, therefore, should be understood in its holistic form, encompassing all relevant facets of society.

Society is a combination and interaction of a number of facets. Among these one would find politics, the economy, academia, government, business, capital, the workplace, geographic settlement patterns, inter alia. These interact to make up South Africa as a state, as an economy, and as a unique society. Politics, I would say, is the only facet of society that is proportionally representative of the population of South Africa. The economy is by and large controlled by white people who are a minority population group. As a result, if economic prosperity had a face, it would be white. The academic space is dominated by western thought, and alternative views are crushed. I once observed a situation in a high school in South Africa where a young Xhosa man who had just come out of initiation (ikrwala) was not allowed to wear the Navada cap that symbolises this particular stage of the man’s life, as required by tradition, culture, and custom, yet a jewish young man was allowed to wear the jewish kipa on his head. The desire to crush anything that is African and embrace anything that is western or white is evident throughout a person’s academic life. Universities merely teach a person how to act, talk, and think in a workplace dominated by western and european construct. Independent thinking is not very popular in South Africa’s private sector, in which many graduates want to be employed upon completion of their studies.

Capital and ownership of means of production is in the hands of white people. Hence we talk of white monopoly capital. There are various laws in place, such as BEE and PPPFA, whose objective is to transfer ownership and create a black capitalist class in South Africa. Currently, these laws are not very effective. Wether it is the laws themselves which are flawed, or it is the way they are implemented that is flawed, is another debate. What is important to know is that if capital is not transformed, then no real transformation can ever take place. It is my view that in most cases capital and organised business has more power in influencing policy positions and decisions in the ruling ANC than the SACP and COSATU has. This presents a situation where a minority who own means of production dictate policy for a majority in most cases. Any alternative radical policy position is met with the threat of the original bogeyman: disinvestment. We fear disinvestment so much that we have come to think of foreign direct investment as the alfa and omega of emerging economies. I believe that the creation of a local source of investment is as crucial to emerging economies as foreign direct investment is. Established economies such as the USA actually limit FDI.

Now I want to touch on the issue of geographic settlement patterns. Inequality in South Africa gives rise to the dual nature of the economy of South Africa. On the one hand, you have places like Sandton, whose citizens live a wealthy life with world-class facilities, infrastructure, and services. On the other hand, you will find places like Diepsloot in Gauteng, or Ndondo Square in the Eastern Cape, whose citizens live a life of poverty and filth. Sanitation is a fantasy to these people. There is no infrastructure, and getting basic services to these people is a mission. These people live in shacks with the constant fear of being burned alive in their sleep giving them sleepless nights. When one shack burns, all of them burn. The people who live in this filth are black people. You will never ever find a white person living in these shacks which are, in all honesty, not fit for human inhabitation. Also important to note is that these informal settlements, a significant number of whose inhabitants are workers, are located far from places of work. These people are poor, yet they live far from places of employment. This means that they have to spend more money, money they do not have, to commute to work. An unjust and unfair settlement pattern to say the least.

This is the South African situation. To truly transform South African society, and all its facets, we need to understand South African society and also understand transformation holistically. True transformation is one in which we not only share in the wealth of South Africa, but also share in the poverty as well. Otherwise we are all just participants in an unjust society.

My name is Linda Sidumo and I am an activist for transformation in South Africa.

Linda Sidumo is a Bachelor of Commerce graduate majoring in Logistics (UNISA), an Honours student at University of Johannesburg, and an employee in the Transport and Logistics industry. Views expressed are strictly his own. Follow him on twitter @TshaweNkosi.