Why black executives are chameleonic about transformation
Blacks are seemingly a minority in business without the power to transform the South African economy which, 26 years after democracy, is dominated by the white race. Power begets power and those in power will use it to entrench themselves.
This would seem to suggest that whites will rule the roost forever in South Africa, undisturbed by the majority black population. Power is also an intricate network which feeds off other sources of power. Business cannot operate as an island. Its power depends directly on having a co-operative government and state-owned enterprise sector. This is where the debate becomes interesting. Why does it appear that the public sector is helping private business to increase its hold on power, while not doing much to create opportunities for the aspirant black SMME sector?
You may have heard parliamentarians in the national assembly blaming white monopoly capital and hardened white attitudes for lack of transformation. This is just an empty excuse. The ANC and the EFF have two thirds majority in parliament between them which is enough to pass legislation that makes it illegal for black people to be poor, or for their businesses to fail, should they so wish. This is even before we throw in the IFP, the UDM and others for good measure. So, what is holding them back?
In my opinion the reasons are quite obvious. The first reason is that executives (including public servants) enjoy the trappings of power, and put in a lot of work to get it. They want other blacks to know and feel this. They want to rub shoulders with the big boys who were there before them. They need to be socialized into the echelons of power by the old boys’ club, who mostly are white. The new black executives have limited if any time to dedicate to aspirant black upstarts at the expense of the sweet embrace of the chairs of table number one
While black executives in the private sector are not a majority, the truth is that they are there, and they seem equally impotent as far as transformation is concerned. Why is that? The allure and decadence of their new paradise prevents them from looking over their shoulders. Then there is also the lack of binoculars to see too far below them. Humans are brought up to always prefer looking up to looking down. Those that are down will somehow have to find a way of hauling themselves up. Like Steve Biko famously wrote – “on your own black man”.
The second reason why black executives become chameleonic coconuts upon entry into power is because business is like a game of chess, where they are constantly being checked each time they make a move. They fear that each check could lead to a checkmate, or loss of power. They are hindered by walking into a well oiled network of control levers that was designed to maintain power. It becomes a classic case of if you cannot beat them join them. Black executives, while not keen to admit it, suffer from fear, intimidation and blackmail. Whenever they consider transformation moves, an accusation, or investigation of potential bribery and corruption is not far from being paraded as a possible reason for supporting transformation.
A third reason is that some black executives, not all, are parachuted into positions of power for which they are ill-qualified and experienced. They cannot speak the crucial business vocabulary, play the game, or dance the dance. They get easily outclassed in boardroom debates, and choose to steer their boats into safe and head-nodding waters. This is linked to a fourth reason, that being outvoted if the matter goes to a casting of ballots.
A fifth reason is that blacks that occupy senior positions, such as that of CEO, often do not have autonomy and may wade into a situation where they share power with a COO, board chairperson or a joint CEO. This is part of a ploy to detox the environment of the threats that unbridled black CEO power might bring. Both black and white executives will argue that they support transformation. This is true for a limited number of individuals, and to a limited extent. Evidence of the unchanged structure of the economy and the inferior economic means of the majority demographic does bring into question the seriousness of such claims.
In conclusion, black executives have sold out by being sucked into the vision insensitive dark glasses that they wear in the corridors of power. However, they were probably never meant to level the playing field, as by virtue of accepting their positions they joined an elite management that is batting against the rest. They entered a well-designed power vault which no single individual could overcome without being ejected. Therefore, the real people to blame are the majority in parliament, in SOEs and government departments, because their entry into a private and exclusive club that keeps blacks out is completely by choice, as they should own the public system of authority.
7 July 2020
Comrade Controversy writes in his personal capacity. Post comments below.