The white economic class undermines the Madiba legacy that protects it

Those with economic power must champion economic inclusion

03 February 2019 - 00:00 By BULUMKO NELANA

My first lesson in politics was on the dusty streets of Mdantsane, delivered by a Pan Africanist sympathiser who said: "Understanding the difference between the ANC and the PAC requires that you imagine someone coming into your home. They beat your father up, arrest him, rape your mother and force all of you children to work as slaves for them while they forcefully take your home.
"Then, in the case of the ANC, your father asks for shared use of your home with the person who took it. He also asks for the person to be a co-parent while controlling the family's financial matters. In the case of the PAC, your father fights to kick out the person and have full control of his family and assets.
"Now you choose: which would you follow, the first father or the second?"
This was a very compelling choice for a very young boy at the time. Naturally I went home and conferred with my father. He laughed at this and said: "Ntwana [my child], it is not that simple. You will have to read a lot to understand politics. In time you will understand the emptiness of this comparison."
This left me even more confused, but eager to start the journey of reading. Over time I learnt that it is easy to simplify complex reality and choose an easy path.
Many have opined that Nelson Mandela, and by extension the ANC, sold out in negotiating the 1994 political settlement.
The Mandela era was defined by certain tenets. The first was forgiveness, led by Madiba's decision to leave behind any anger or need for vengeance in his cell of 27 years and focus on reconstructing the country and playing a positive role.
The second was a peaceful transition, as he came to the conclusion that too much of the blood of the black majority had been spilt by the white army, and, to a lesser extent, many from the white population had died in attacks by the military wings of the liberation movement.
The third was curbing of poverty and the continued suffering of the black majority.
The fourth was economic and cultural integration of the country into the mainstream, as the exclusion of SA economically and culturally had left an inward-looking state, a limping economy and import-substitution industrialisation that had run its course.
The fifth was reconciliation. Madiba decided to focus his energies on reconciling the races of SA as part of a solid foundation to craft a common, sustainable, prosperous future. Hence it was possible to agree to the sunset clauses that accommodated the outgoing white administration.
These five tenets of Mandela's era yielded interesting and sometimes contradictory results. Combined, they were meant to yield social and political capital for forward movement of the country and elevate the ANC into a leader of the transition to a better society.
Reciprocally, implied and expressed, was an expectation from Madiba that the white economic class would extend a similar hand to the excluded black majority. Clearly this did not happen. The black majority continues to be economically marginalised. Black people still constitute the poor of SA, apart from the sprinkling of empowered blacks.
There has been no-one in the white economy who has decidedly led in mobilising the white economic class to offer a solution to the exclusion of blacks from economic participation.
This lack of leadership from white business has resulted in the perceived or real arrogance of the white economic class as depicted by sound bites like "You people are lazy" or "You people like flashy lifestyles". This attitude reverses the spirit of Mandela's olive branch and produces resentment among the black majority - while prosperity in the white community continues to grow, only now through a system legitimised by blacks.
Mandela is gone, and has left us with the phrase "It is in your hands". What does this mean for everyone who wields some economic and political power? In the most basic terms, our historical mission as a generation was cast in these words of Madiba.
Those with economic power must take responsibility for leading the economic inclusion project. They need to ensure that all the hurdles to economic participation by the majority are removed. This includes access to finance, technology, land and the skills to produce goods and services that are procured locally and globally.
A diversified and inclusive economy is the basis for the lasting peace and forgiveness Madiba envisaged. It is the only true basis of ending poverty and facilitating better inclusion of SA globally. If the white economic class fails this mission it will have betrayed Madiba's generous gift to white SA.
Mandela never sold out our struggle. It is the white economic class - which holds Mandela in high regard but works to sabotage or is indifferent about economic transformation - which works to undermine the very legacy of the man who is now vilified as a sellout by some of his own for accommodating white people.
Instead of taking the easy and simplistic way out, we all should place Mandela, and by extension the ANC, at a point in history. Mandela's era bequeathed to our generation opportunities for a sustainable future for the country. However, there are minimum responsibilities of various sections of society that can move SA forward.
• Nelana is a development activist, a former deputy president of the South African Students Congress and a former chair of the Eastern Cape ANC Youth League.
• This is an edited version. The full article can be found on our website.

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