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Black consumers fuel white privilege

By Ntombenhle Khathwane

While I laud Gillian Schutte for calling out white privilege and racism on radio and on her blogs — I assume in an attempt to rid our society of such thinking so as to create a more equitable society — the most she can do as a white person is call it out or suggest a remedy, the solution has to come through action from black society. Every black person will agree with Schutte because we experience racism directly or indirectly through the remnants of the system that created and sustains white privilege, racism and supremacy every day.

Calling it out and raging about it as we have done year in and year out for decades will not change things. Even if all white people acknowledged that they are privileged because they are white, there’s no use in expecting them to hand anything to us. If I was in any position of privilege as a race, gender or tribe, I doubt I’d hand over my power easily, very few people would.

Most of the privilege we decry is largely based on socio-economic inequality. We decry the lack of black people in corporate South Africa and lack of opportunities to penetrate the business environment to create our own wealth. Yet blacks, especially the fast growing black middle class, is fuelling white big business and corporates. Many of the consumer-based businesses listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange are supported by the black middle class. From food franchisers like Famous Brands and retail chains like Truworths and Shoprite; banks like Capitec; housing developments and media businesses like Naspers are highly profitable and driven largely by the black consumer.

Change has to come from the black community, we need to reclaim our power. Our current government can only do so much, citizen activism is what is needed now. Change and action towards a more equitable economy will eventually happen either through disruptive revolution, as possibly led by Malema’s EFF, or we can collectively do it using “softer” methods such as consumer boycotts and petitions, which are used successfully all over the world. Boycotts similar to the Potato Boycott of 1959 started by Gert Sibande and the ANC. The Potato Boycott, which was spurred by the bad treatment of farm workers on potato farms in Bethal in the then Transvaal successfully campaigned for consumers in South Africa and globally to stop buying Transvaal potatoes. It was successful. Another option, which is my preferred option, is a “Support Black Business” campaign.

My argument is not about promoting reverse racism or motivated by a disdain for white supremacy. In fact I am not really concerned or bothered anymore about how white people see me as a black person or black people in general. I refuse to let it define me or my people. It seems to be human nature to craft our identity through belittling the “other”. This is the case in racism, sexism, tribalism and even religion. My point is to not let white supremacy, which is the basis of white racism, define me, my life experience and our collective identity as black people. It’s the unfortunate reality of life that differences will always be highlighted, what we need to evolve towards is accepting how others are different without feeling superior to them or needing to feel superior to them to feel good about ourselves. This competition to be superior is what grated Vladimir Putin about Barack Obama’s address regarding Syria wherein Obama praised and encouraged US exceptionalism, because in effect it is about American superiority over other nations.

Many of the things we consume as black South Africans — whether it’s popular high-quality brands in malls or no-name, low-quality brands in independent retailers — are manufactured by and sold in shops owned by other races that are more privileged than us. As things stand and are poised to continue, accumulation of wealth will continue to be skewed, meaning the socio-economic upliftment of black people will remain slow. It also means that many black people will remain dependent on social grants instead of entering the mainstream economy to earn more and accumulate real wealth to leave poverty permanently.

We too need to start big black-owned businesses in every sector and importantly support them. Even if current big business does employ black managers and appoint black directors on boards, the businesses are still majority-owned by whites. We need to start our own retail chains and compete with Truworths and Shoprite. I imagine a black-owned retail chain competing with Shoprite and Mr Price and even complicated businesses like insurance businesses.

This is no longer impossible, we have accumulated the skills in numbers to run such businesses well, we have the numbers to support them. I was so excited when Given Mkhari’s MSG bid to takeover TopTV. It was a step towards claiming ownership in an industry that is largely profitable off the back of black consumers. I am not alone in needing this to happen, evidence is in the excitement expressed by many at the launch of PowerFM.

I know socialists wouldn’t agree with such a soft revolution because it would seem as if we are merely replacing colour whereas they want a total change in economic system. I am convinced a fully socialist system would tank the country at this stage, but that’s an argument for another day. It’s time black people actively create and own their collective destiny and this applies to the continent at large.

Ntombenhle Khathwane is an Afro-optimistic social commentator, student of politics and pan-Africanist who believes Africans hold the key to their own development. She is an entrepreneur and black business activist fascinated by global markets and big business.

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36 Comments

  1. Gillian Schutte Gillian Schutte 18 October 2013

    Ntombenhle I agree that the extent of anti-racism work a white person can do is limited because ultimately we are not the victims of racism and privilege. We can only hope to change some minds or hold the mirror up and encourage reflection or awareness – but, as I say in this piece, it is to black people that the Red October (for eg) will have to answer. Whiteness has made an industry out of blackness – even well meaning one’s.

    http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/gillianschutte/2013/10/17/seeing-red/

  2. Sandile Memela Sandile Memela 18 October 2013

    Very articulate and insightful article except that it is steeped in 19th Century thinking. This is more than 200 years backward. You need to catch a wake up to live in the here and now.

    Without being disrespectful, what good does it serve to have a black-owned Woolworths, BMW dealer, Shoprite or Checkers when black owners will be out to oppress and exploit the so called black consumers just like their capitalist counterparts. Black capitalism is NOT the solution!!!

    I think I should leave there. You have to figure out the rest for yourself. As Malcolm X said: you cannot expect a chicken to lay a duck egg. Black or white, capitalists are the same.

    So, where to from here?

  3. Clare Hendry Clare Hendry 18 October 2013

    The writer may find it interesting that the Government Employees Pension Fund owns 13.7% and 11% of Truworths and Shoprite, respectively, PIC holds 11% of Naspers. That excludes other Pension Funds not specifically disclosed in the Annual Reports. It’s not simply a case of ‘white’ business anymore.

  4. bernpm bernpm 18 October 2013

    You conclude: “It’s time black people actively create and own their collective destiny and this applies to the continent at large.”

    That means creativity in goal setting, hard work and more saving than spending. It means surviving failure and showing the guts to recover.

    I have seen those individuals but as a nation?? I leave the answers to you.

  5. J.J. J.J. 18 October 2013

    @ Sandile

    “Black or white, capitalists are the same.”
    True

    “So, where to from here?”
    Why don’t you suggest something?

    (But, the only two countries in the world that are not capitalistic in some way or the other are Cuba and North Korea – is that the way we should go?)

  6. Peter Peter 18 October 2013

    Exactly Sandile, but why the automatic assumption that capitalism necessarily exploits and oppresses and why only the so-called black consumers – are there no other consumers?

    If black capitalism or any other type of capitalism (what is the difference) is not the solution, then what is – socialism? And then what?

  7. Mbonisi Mbonisi 18 October 2013

    Ntombenhle, the theories of superiority which essentially drive racism, trabalism, religious conflicts and all other “isms” really need to be debunked.

    I have noted many whites who believe in racial superiority pride themselves in the achievements of those who went before them.

    I think, we as humans need to stop this “group mentality” and see ourselves as individuals. This is the only way we will be able to get rid of ideas of superiority.

    It is really stupid to ride on the successes of other people, simply because of the accident of race, language or religion. One needs to ask themselves whether “he/she” as an individual has contributed anything of note to human progress.

    Get rid these commonly held views that say, we are superior to you because “we brought cars, aeroplanes, roads etc to Africa”; “we invented this and that, and you invented nothing…” etc, etc.

    Claiming credit for other people’s achievements, just because they happen to be of the same race with you, yet you yourself as an individual has no achievements in life to your credit is the source of all this superiority complex that causes all these racial tensions among people, right across the globe.

    Once we see ourselves as individuals first before seeing ourselves as part of a group, ideas of white priviledge will automatically disappear. We will also cease to see ourselves as befitting more than others of certain priviledges, owing to our languages, or religious affiliation!!

  8. Yendys Yendys 18 October 2013

    Unfortunately it is easier for go ahead black people to make money as rent takers because of BEE. Why would anybody with any brains set up a business, risk his money, go into debt, work day and night and employ people under the currently labour regime, when it is easier and more profitable to get unearned shares in an existing business or get a tender as a middle man, or a corporate job with all the trimmings, because you have the asset of a black skin.
    BEE is killing off the opportunity to build proper black trading and service businesses.
    As far as Sandile Mamela’s comments that black capitalism is not the answer, as usual no proposal as to what is the answer…maybe going back to peasant vegetable planting or is it grabbing assets without compensation or maybe cooperatives working the land. I think Mao tried that

  9. Alois Alois 18 October 2013

    Yes, what is being set forth in this forensic look at economics as relates to the black South African and equally so as relates to the unfortunate economic plight of the African American is a most timely statement of the truth and ironically a no brainer. Under “integration,” which seems the unintended result of T&R, there has been a hemorrhaging of the “black” dollar/Rand into the greater context (in the US) and the lesser context (SA). Small wonder, then, that populations with far less numbers than the black American population have gone on to economic success in that their dollars are spent within the respective communities, say, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese enclaves. Unfortunately and inexplicably, for that matter, that economic dynamic seems to escape both the black South African and the African American. So, yes, it will be up the African himself to boot upwards to economic equality and stop expecting a deus ex machine to suddenly appear with a magic wand!

  10. Alois Alois 18 October 2013

    Of course, I misspelled “..deus ex MACHINA…” Apologies.

  11. Thobani Mtolo Thobani Mtolo 18 October 2013

    For a people who’ve experienced more then 500 years of servitude, the call to reclaim Afrikan identity shouldn’t be alarming, and if we should worry about anything at all is the Afrikan becoming the oppressor in the process but I believe Afrikans have been made wise in their enduring struggle not to advocate such an end. While Afrikan-owned business is desirable, it would be wise as trite as it may sound, to also find a way to infuse the spirit of ubuntu as a trademark principle in Afrikan-business instead of worrying as Mr. Memela argues that “black-capitalism is not a solution”, we should not dismiss the idea but develop a pedagogy that will be a modes of education of Afrikans at grassroot level about the value of oneness in the Afrikan community. This ofcourse won’t be achieved over night, but is certainly achievable. Asians have been at it for ages, puting themslevs first before the world and we can all see how far it’s gotten them.

  12. The Praetor The Praetor 19 October 2013

    I agree fully

    The Praetor

  13. James James 19 October 2013

    Thanks Sandile good comment. I also find it strange that this writer sees that black consumers are well off enough to make businesses rich, but then bemoans the fact that these businesses are white owned, many of them. It seems like nothing less than taking over the economy will satisfy some people’s desire for…is it revenge? But she has found the solution none the less. You cannot take what is not yours. Simply build your own businesses and add to the pie. You have a lot in your favour including favourable loans, etc.

    To return to your comment Sandile i have become convinced we need a two-tier economic system. The first tier – free enterprise, letting skills and freedom do what they do best, create wealth and jobs. Then a second tier to support all those left out by the competitiveness, and yes, greed, of the first tier. This tier would be state aided, would be non profit, and would provide both jobs and basic affordable products to both the second tier workers and anyone else, incl the rich if they so desire. Eg, simple and affordable school uniforms, desks, dining chairs, etc, whatever the capitalist system puts out of reach of ordinary people. But you would need skilled people from the first tier to run these businesses, and a clean government, so getting rid of the ANC is the first step. There would obviously be some crossover in the tiers. Economists, any ideas? Could it work?

  14. Beatroot Beatroot 19 October 2013

    Well said, Clare. The ‘white’ listed companies mentioned often make most of their profits abroad (Naspers, SABMiller) and the taxes paid in South Africa go toward supporting the 14 million people on welfare. It doesn’t take much capital to start an entrepreneurial enterprise, just a good idea, hard work and an unflagging spirit. As Sandile mentioned, does a black capitalist treat his/her workers any better than a white? We saw the debacle that was Aurora Mines whose directors Khulubuse Zuma and Zondwa Mandela treated their workers with absolute contempt, failing to pay them for over a year.

  15. BrianB BrianB 19 October 2013

    White people were privileged by apartheid. Apartheid ended in 1994, yet in 2013, nineteen years later we are still being accused of clinging to our privilege.
    There are many black entrepreneurs who are far too busy building their fortunes to waste much time thinking about white privilege.
    The government has been cautious not to destroy white commerce because they know that they will destroy the tax base. If white agriculture is disrupted, food shortages would follow.
    Now you are advocating citizen activism suggesting that Malema could champion this. So you want a man who has probably not worked an honest day in his life and has spent much of his time building his own privilege and wealth to lead the way. What a farce.
    Do you want to grow the pie or consume it?
    If you do ,how about all South Africans joining hands to build the economy?
    Scrap BEE etc and focus on education and job creation instead of propagating a culture of entitlement.
    The results of joint effort could mean that South Africa becomes an economic giant , with vastly improved standards of living for all .
    Don’t expect the whites to just hand over whatever they have built because it will never happen.

  16. Daniel Berti Daniel Berti 19 October 2013

    Nice article.
    Separately, I wonder, if we were to take the words “black” and “white” from your heading, would the sentence still be true?

  17. bernpm bernpm 19 October 2013

    @Daniel Berti:”Separately, I wonder, if we were to take the words “black” and “white” from your heading, would the sentence still be true?”

    With the recent articles on “Thoughleader” about anything being divided into a “black” and “white” perspective..from newspaper, economics, penis, capitalism, socialism we should demand that the words “black” and “white” will be banned from public use.

    Banning the “K” word has been largely successfully done.

  18. Moor Moor 20 October 2013

    Daniel,

    Would a heading, “White capitalism feeds Black bellies” be acceptable, P.C. wise? Perhaps not quite the line Thought Leader follows, even if true.

    Ntombenhle, Just think. “White” business has gifted R600 billion to black folk in BEE. The ANC have spent R200 billion building “RDP” houses. R600 billion versus R200 billion.

    BEE privilege vs. housing build ratio is 3 to 1. 3 to 1!

    Where is your indignation? Where is your article demanding that the poor should have benefitted from this largesse rather than your squamous “Dear Leaders”?

    Sandile, get real and give thanks for the Rhodes’, Beits and Oppenheimers who built our economy into (once) the 15th biggest in the world. Yes, the were white and they were capitalists, but thet deserve your gratitude anyway.

  19. Kreef Kreef 20 October 2013

    BrianB , Forget it . You make far to much sense . ANC or EFF think is not big on common sense .

  20. BrianB BrianB 20 October 2013

    Kreef, you may have a point.
    Many Thoughtleader contributors seem to also be falling into the same category lately.
    Kind of bereft of both thought and leadership.

  21. Kreef Kreef 20 October 2013

    BrainB , Specifically leadership .

  22. The Arch The Arch 20 October 2013

    Well written, and insightful article Ntombenhle.

    I think by and large the crux of the ‘matter’ is being misunderstood by the majority of the people here.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with a call for a collective group of people who through generations of systemic oppression mentally and otherwise to rise up, realize the current power they posses which by and large is used to fuel an economy controlled and which largely still benefits the beneficiaries of the system that oppressed them.

    There is only so much the government can do, economically, we need to realize this power and use it. fuel the change as it were.

    I think this is the kind of discussions we need to be having as black people. instead of the usual dependency talk.

    we need this.

    Thank you Ntombenhle, hope this fuels and sparks somethings that can bring change.

  23. Karney Karney 20 October 2013

    Attacking big business ownership is a soft sell, with no responsibilities. At the end of the day you can walk away muttering about evil white capitalists and not have lost anything. Black people hold the power in this country but are unable to use it wisely. Your government makes policy, laws and controls the public purse, tax collection and most local governments. The problem lies in the mess it’s all become, bogged down by corruption, theft, ineptitude, lack of political will and , power struggles within the ruling party. Confronting this and taking some responsibility by holding your elected officials accountable is obviously too much hard work. Far easier to attack white business and find a scapegoat for all your problems. Eish!

  24. Mikhail Dworkin Fassbinder Mikhail Dworkin Fassbinder 21 October 2013

    Ntombenhle is right. That is why I buy from only my own kind, viz., Slovenians.

  25. BrianB BrianB 21 October 2013

    Here’s a thought.
    How about being a South African, not just a Black South African or a White South African or Zulu or a Soutie or a Pedi or a Boer !! Or a Hindu or a Porra or whatever.
    Is it necessary to penalise a sector of the population to appease another sector.
    I thought that is what we threw in the bin in 1994. Obviously I was wrong.
    Another thought , monopolies flourish throughout the world, quite often as a result of government expediency.

  26. Eddie Eddie 21 October 2013

    Ntombenhle, my lady, first and foremost your article is a conversation starter. It is articulate and very well written. I like your analysis and how you back it up.

    When I shared this article with friends and colleagues over the weekend it spurred positive conservation all weekend long. All of us are in corporate and all of us complain week in week out about the challenges we face because we are black. This article changed the conversations to what if. What if we had our own firms? We have the talent, skills and experience. What if for once when the annual statistics on transformation in the private sector we didn’t bemoan the lack of transformation coz we were busy building our own businesses.

    I understand your article to be progressive, for example to seek movement away from dependency on social grants to people actually working. To seeing SOWETO become a suburb instead of people moving to suburbs. The many children who wake up and go to school leaving many adults at home not going to work are not being inspired. They are learning to be dependent on govt and not to take charge of their destiny.

    I do believe that we can change the economic and political structure so it permits markets/businesses to flourish, jobs and entrepreneurship to grow, whilst protecting the poor better, making govt more accountable and truly creating a better South Africa for all.

    I look forward to your next article on why socialism wouldn’t work.

  27. Alternative Alternative 21 October 2013

    Just got back from China – command culture is terrible, soul-less. No-one is able to think outside the box and will not and cannot take a decision on on their own – always had to refer to a senior. Very impressive cities are covered in terrible smog and insiders are saying that about 40 of Chinese die from lung cancer in these cities – don’t know how true that it but life expectancy must surely be much shorter. Friendly people are very isolated with very very limited grasp of other languages. One senses huge problems under the surface. South Africans would never handle a command culture. We are too outspoken, too used to our freedooms. I have travelled widely but this experience has left me saddened and wondering about the huge loss of creativity that comes with the freedom of expression. If things were to change in China it would take generations to catch up. I feel very sorry for the Chinese and very thankful for my wild and wonderful country.

  28. Mark Mark 21 October 2013

    So basically in the author’s mind it all boils down to this. The black population want the white population to live in RSA, but they don’t want them to own any land. You can own business enterprises but you have to forfit most of it to black staff, directors or developing suppliers with less skills now, who will then probably be favoured over the white businesses in the future anyway. Universities must accept white students but make sure that the positions of key faculties are reserved for black kids. And on top of that you now want black people to boycott white business indefinitely.

    This new black discourse needs to wind its neck in because this constant white defamation is getting as bit much.

    What is next in this book of crazy?

  29. Mr. Direct Mr. Direct 21 October 2013

    @Eddie

    I am glad about your positive outlook, but what do you mean by “we can change the economic and political structure so it permits markets/businesses to flourish, jobs and entrepreneurship to grow, whilst protecting the poor better, making govt more accountable”

    Are these not available now?

  30. Amanda Amanda 21 October 2013

    Hi, I am white but I do agree on many of your points. Black people should stop moaning and groaning about how unfortunate they are even after 20 years of democracy, after Black empowerment and affirmative action ect They should get out there and create their own black busineses, their own wealth, and not rely on the hand outs of the government. However I must mention to you that many of the big businesses are owned by black people. Some one once said that even after 20 years that the blacks are running the country 80% of the companies on the JSA belongs to white people. Now I am saying who’s fault is it, the whites? Even after BEEEE and afirmative action the whites are still financially ruling the country. Why?seek the answer for yourself but I believe the fault does not ly with the whites but rather with the blacks who has currently more changes to start their own business, just like you suggested, but they do not use oppurtunities wisely en effectively.Black people hold the keyto their own development And lastly you say that all blacks feel the racism towards them from whites. I do not believe that to be true. I work with mostly black people for years now and never have we had racism differences. We work well together laugh together and even party together. Not all whites are racist, black people can just be as racis but I believe that most of them are moderate and good people just as whites are.

  31. Asif Asif 22 October 2013

    Hard work pays. That is the bottom line, whether you black or white.

  32. Yaj Yaj 22 October 2013

    @ Sandile Memela

    I agree totally with you for a change. The way forward is an economic paradigm shift away from the neoliberal one to a modern 21st century economic system non-growth and sustainable -a steady-state economy . To achieve this we need fundamental monetary and banking reform- either development of the economy through savings via a public banking system or full 100% reserve banking and public credit system with debt-free credit created by the reserve bank for investment in renewable energy, public transport (light-rail), local agriculture and light manufacturing. Add to this a universal basic income, the scrapping of regressive income tax and VAT and replacement with a land value tax, financial transactions tax and carbon tax. For good measure we can even cap executive pay at a maximum ratio of 100 to 1 relative to the lowest paid employee of any given company.

    For more info check out http://www.positivemoney.org.uk and http://www.publicbankingsolution.com

  33. Soso Soso 22 October 2013

    Great article. Socialism as praised by many when they are still out of government, and seem to be forgotten when people join government. That movement can be driven by government through a government bank to assist such initiatives. I also believe that new businesses can be created without the BEE vehicle. The capitalist agenda seems to be the order of the day as successive governments and major political parties endorses such agenda through their economic policies. We need black capitalists everywhere ASAP!

  34. Lucky Ntuli Lucky Ntuli 22 October 2013

    Oh dear, global markets do not care about your skin colour or the fact that you are African. They are fed and fueled by return on investments.

    Klaar.

    You can not wish this and hope it will just happen. Invest, come up with better ideas to address the gaps in demand in whatever sector.

    Being African or black in not special, for crying out loud

  35. BrianB BrianB 23 October 2013

    Lucky Ntuli for President !! A breath of fresh air in a sea of despondency.

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