Black man, you are on your own

August 18, 2011 § 11 Comments

I wrote a blog that lamented the fact that 91% of the CEOs of some 295 companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange are white last week, and boy did I get called names. I was called a racist amongst other things. To be honest I didn’t want to carry on writing about that subject on this column, but the interest and emotion that it seemed to provoke in people left me with no choice but to tackle the subject even further. The subject of race and economics, that is.

What I have come to realise is that it is almost impossible to address the issue of race without being labelled a racist. It does not matter how reasonable one is being on the subject – a clear sign that we have not healed as a nation and it will take some time before any healing takes place. We are divided, often along racial lines; where racial lines are closing class lines emerge. The topics that people have around their dinner tables and braai stands reinforce the “us and them” attitudes. Some politicians prefer it that way, keeping us divided because this gives them power over us. They tell us to fear those people, not to trust them, not in so many words but the clues are there.

I am currently reading Doris Kearns Goodwins biography on Lincoln, Team of Rivals. (Be warned, it’s a thick book, rivalling the Bible but remarkably shorter than Gaddaffi’s speech at the United Nations last year.) At a point when America was deeply divided over the slavery issue with the South refusing to free its slaves, Lincoln made his “A House Divided” speech during his Senatorial race (which he lost). In 1858, two years later he would be propelled to the presidency on an anti-slavery platform.

He said a house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved. I do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Incidentally Lincoln made that speech on June 16, albeit a different year, 1858.

A divided South Africa on the economic front cannot stand. Take a look at our neighbours up north – Zimbabwe. They were split racially and economically. A politician exploited the divisions. If the private sector does not mend the economic divisions, some politician will widen them. In the end the corporate world will lose what it thought it was protecting.

We find ourselves divided when it comes to the economic front. Some white people feel that they are being robbed of their right to make money. Others feel that they are no longer wanted nor needed in South Africa because of the colour of their skin. What they fail to understand is that there are black people who feel that this freedom is worthless because they still have nothing. They still see white people prosperous while they get poorer and poorer. Each side sees themselves as worse than the other. Each side paints itself as a greater victim than the other. Some scream reverse racism while others scream economic apartheid.

The truth is there are no victims. There are many who expect manna from heaven. There will be no such thing. People were on their own during apartheid, or if you wish, the desert years. There was no manna then, there will be none now. In the words of the great Steve Biko, “Black man, you are on your own”.

We have to make things happen for ourselves, study, work and above all, make a way where there is none; that is what every celebrated captain of industry has done. To borrow and to use his words as my own, White man, you are also on your own. South Africans, you are all on your own.

Taking individual responsibility is the only thing that will end these divisions. Entitlement will widen them. South Africans, you are on your own. If we are to be a great nation we have to realise that the path to greatness is not achieved through excuses.

*originally appeared on

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§ 11 Responses to Black man, you are on your own

  • godfrey says:

    True! I sometimes wonder y black people expect stuff from whites and u don’t find the opposite that is whites hoping or expecting stuff from blacks! Does it mean whites where created first and that they had a head start,No I don’t think so or are they more wiser? Eish! Yeah! Black man do it for urself! I guess dats why our fellow black leaders eat on their own but on the other end their destroying a beautiful country!

  • Zac says:

    I can’t begin to tell you how inspiring this post is to me. Thank you.

    Sometimes however, I feel like white people will never understand what it is like to be a black man but having said that blak people will never understand what it is like to be a White. The social pressures and guilt that comes with the territory and so on.
    At the end of the day the only barriers dividing us are ourselves.

  • Sibs says:

    It is really difficult to accept the fact that “You are on your own” when the playing field is un-even. With most of our ‘caucasian’ brothers and sister’s, they were given platforms which most of our black brothers and sisters never had. As a result, it is an arduous task for a person of colour to come up in this country. I for one, am in the Western Cape, where its even more difficult as the concept of “BEE” and “Black Diamonds” seems to have taken a back seat. Whilst the caucasians may claim its reverse-apartheid, all because there are laws to get me somewhere doesnt mean I am not qualified to be there. I have 2 degree, and am more than qualified to do my job. But as you said “We are on our own”. It is what it is.

  • Richard says:

    Love it.

  • Johan Swarts says:

    Taking individual responsibility is the only thing that will end these divisions. Entitlement will widen them.

    These, my friend, are wise words.

  • Thokozane says:

    Black Men you’re on your own, this has always been the case though, we face a different struggle now than we did during the ‘desert years’. Under apartheid we had to forge a unity because we shared a goal, that was freedom, after that we lost focus.

  • Ryan Hogarth says:

    A great piece. I’ve realised over time that writers write their words from their point of view and then readers see it from theirs. The curious result are people who believe the writer meant completely different things. All from the same words. When I see an article such as this as I simultaneously filled with hope and a little despair. Hope because there are so many people (black and white) in the country who “get it” and honestly want to see, and work toward, a non-racial society. Despair that there are so many intent on division that such inspired writing is necessary.

    However, I choose to believe.

    Thanks again.

  • Education and training is the ONLY thing that will save this country.
    Not submarines, not Grippens, Not Zuma, Not Zille.

    Competent teachers in front of eager learners and a blackboard. The recipe is not difficult. As long as white kids receive 6 hours effective schooling per day and black kids 3hours white student will earn more than blacks students and the cycle will not be broken.

    Read the article by Thabang Motsohi to hear another point on this:

  • Great piece written by someone that is capable of seeing both or even bette,r all sides of the coin. The extra dimension added to race is the economic health of the wider world. With wars and uprisings in the East and a World Power like the USA heading for self destruction a definate third dimension is added to the black, white – and the history it has. As the world’s economy is falling appart things indeed will get worse before it ever is going to get better. It is therefore good advice to look at yourself, better yourself and equip yourself to survive in the uncertain times that we live in. NOBODY will do it for you.

  • Painfultruth says:

    Our fairer bro & sisters had a headstart with policies that cushioned them for years. Is it wrong to ask for the same for my bros and sisters of African decent?

  • Sonwabo says:

    Its surprising that when a writer is accommodating readers feel the need to concede. But, when you being explicit about facts and constructive, the tend to see you as a divisive element. None the less, I find it necessary to route out this shocking realities in corporate South Africa or we will be discussing the same 30 years ahead.

    Good piece but I found the former even more appealing.

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