Africans selling Out their Legacy

Solidarity challenges Woolworth’s policy of absolute representivity based on the country’s racial demographics with impunity. They know that there is no potency in political power. Crippling the bottom-line is the only proven tool. Remember sanctions? Capital has the ability to hamstring economic equality and perpetuate the illusion of transformation with no sustainable results. Even if companies recruit African people to reflect the racial representivity of the country, if they are not occupying critical positions that have the authority and they lack the will to truly transform the environment, business as usual will continue.

Remember Don Imus, the American radio personality who was dropped by MSNBC, after advertisers pulled out from the station and caused him to lose his job for calling Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos?” Imus’ shock humour ignored the new America in which African-Americans, though not large in numbers, had the will, the power and the authority to influence capital to transform its values and restore their dignity. African-Americans acted in unison, from those who were journalists, to the ordinary employees, to those who had successfully climbed the corporate ladder to the CEO level. They used every channel at their disposal from sending e-mails to their employers to take action on their behalf, called press conferences and pulled their companies’ advertising and sponsorships from the radio station. Companies ranging from American Express, General Motors, Glaxo-SmithKline and Proctor & Gamble amongst others, heeded their outrage and communicated a convincing message by hurting MSNBC’s pocket resulting in the firing of Imus. Self-preservation inspired drastic change in a short timeframe proving the supremacy of capital.

September, being Heritage Month, triggered the memory of this event and had me wondering about the legacy that we, as African professionals and business leaders, are building for our country. Capital has paid lip-service to making right the evils of apartheid for too long. Solidarity’s call for Woolworths to be boycotted brought home the reality that eighteen years into our democracy, there are categories and loyalties that still dominate our the lives. I went to my neighbourhood Woolworths this week around 15:30. The shop was fairly empty, but I did not think much of it because it was a workday. A white lady walked up to the till and commented on the quietness of the shop then gleefully added, “People must be answering the boycott call”. I am not convinced that African people have the same allegiance to each other or truly appreciate how our lack of potent courage is compromising our democracy. When we are not fooling ourselves, we know that many of us have reached these leadership positions to fulfill compliance motives with the hope that our lucrative paycheques will pacify us. In most instances, the plan is working.

We became comfortable too quickly as though being middle class precludes us from remaining engaged and being agents of the economic struggle. African professionals and the middle class have been seduced and lulled by the little economic gains. Capital is never going to give up its power willingly. I am concerned that many of us who have positions which should accord the authority and power to effect change, are squandering it by not rocking the boat, focusing on displaying vulgar trappings of material success and expending energy sucking up to politicians thus building a precarious legacy. We will regret the South African Spring eighteen years from now, if not sooner, where African professionals and leaders will bear the brunt and be the targets of the masses who will accuse us of being complicit in their continued oppression and alienation. They would have had enough of living like beggars in the country of their birth, propping up a democracy that does nothing for them!


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