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 News24.com