Last year, I met a guy online who was making and selling very nice, afrocentric jackets. The guy was from the USA, a black guy. We spoke at length, and my aim was to create a market for his product here in South Africa, guided by the idea of #BuyBlack. We ended up discussing wether he would give me rights to manufacture his product locally in South Africa and work out a cost-benefit arrangement between me and himself, or some other party that would have liked to get involved. The reason for this is to import from the USA would mean we sell locally at R2500 per jacket. Considering the socioeconomic condition of black people in my country, I knew that this was not going to work. Anyway, what ended up happening is nothing. The reason is, I had no capital, I had no land, and I had no influence. Now capital and land are the most important means of production, and the current reality is that we, black people, have access to neither.
I again had an idea, an entrepreneurial idea, which I thought was brilliant. I still do. But again, I am black in a system that denies black people access to means of production. I browsed the NEF (National Empowerment Fund) website. I found that they require that, first of all, a person asking for a grant must be free from credit bureau blacklists (interesting name this, blacklist). Strange, considering the fact that South Africa is an economy that promotes debt, an economy that I believe is largely debt driven. In light of this, and also considering the black condition (black tax, landlessness, generational poverty, etc), there is bound to be a significant number of black people who will default on some of their payments, and consequently land themselves on the blacklist. This group of people, those in the blacklist, are automatically excluded from the services of NEF.
The NEF also requires that applicants for funding and assistance draw up financial projections that stretch five years, even for start ups. Now there is nothing wrong in performing financial due diligence which will determine feasibility, except that there is a significant number of people who do not have access to the tools to perform this complex financial work, nor do they have access to money to pay those who do have access to these tools. I know this sounds like some form of dependency complex, but how must a 22 year old from Ezitandini eCala who did not finish matric do financial projections that stretch 5 years for a business idea he or she has? Automatically, he is excluded from the services of the NEF.
These are but two of the requirements at the NEF. This points to a problem with our institutions: they are operating like institutions of a first world country, in a developing country with race and class redress long overdue.
The problem is lack of black participation in the mainstream economy. And that lack of participation stems from the fact that we simply do not possess the means required to produce. Now, one will hear a lot of opinion leaders driving an idea that we are not participating in our economy because we need to fix our minds and mentalities as black people. To me, that is absurd. We have been innovating. We have been creating. Only for those innovations and creations to be stolen and passed off as someone else’s. What we need is not corrected mentalities, what we need is access to means of production, qha.
The day I first went into the NEF website, I was humming a tune to myself. Its an old choral tune that goes: “Sicel’amalizo, nal’ithemba.” In English (because we constantly have to explain ourselves in English) it means “We are asking for donations and empathy, we bring herewith hope.” I saw my business idea as hope, and all I needed was the resources to make this hope come to life.
We cannot continue to talk about radical economic transformation when black people are still denied opportunities because of a socioeconomic condition that was engineered by the very same people who now hold a monopoly over means of production. There are numerous practical business ideas out there, innovated by black people. But without the necessary means to produce that idea and make it come to life, it will remain just that: an idea.
Resourcing black entrepreneurs is an advantage even for the state, because it would mean increased entrepreneurial activity, which translates to an expanded revenue and tax base for the state.
We cannot be begging for these things. The money that NEF and other supposed change angencies administer does not belong to them, it belongs to the people of South Africa. It is the people’s investment in themselves. Yes, granted, NEF et al do give out grants and assistance, but my problem is the framework within which they do so, and that framework is a bit exclusionary and systematically denies access to some, to most.
I once heard somewhere that if it is inaccessible to the poor, it is neither radical nor revolutionary.
Linda Sidumo is a BCom graduate, a public servant, a social activist, a voice for black business, Chairperson of the Education Access campaign, and an emerging black participant in the South African economy. Views expressed are strictly his individual views, and do not, in any way, represent the views of any organisation or group of persons.