JOEL NETSHITENZHE: How black professionals could reshape SA’s economic tone and social timbre

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Instead of mimicking white elite lifestyles, the ambition should be to launch a new path that frees everyone, writes Joel Netshitenzhe
Most black professionals nowadays belong, at once, in the binary settings of opulence and wretchedness. The sense of “arrival” is daily tempered by the realisation that we are only at the beginning of another episode in a never-ending journey. To ensure the gold at the end of the rainbow does not turn into a mirage, professionals need to relate their narrow interests to the broader aspirations of society.

If there were any fitting articulation of the generic ideal that should guide black professionals, three such assertions from three generations of leaders stand out.

In his speech at Columbia University at the turn of the past century, Pixley ka Isaka Seme asserted: “The regeneration of Africa means that a new and unique civilisation is soon to be added to the world…. The most essential departure of this new civilisation is that it shall be thoroughly spiritual and humanistic — indeed a regeneration, moral and eternal!”

In his book, Let My People Go, Chief Albert Luthuli says: “Somewhere ahead there beckons a civilisation which will take its place in God’s history with other great human syntheses: Chinese, Egyptian, Jewish, European. It will not necessarily be all black: but it will be African.”

Writing in Some African Cultural Concepts, Steve Biko argued: “The great powers of the world may have done wonders in giving the world an industrial and military look, but the great gift still has to come from Africa — giving the world a more human face.”

The significance of these assertions lies in their transcendental paradigm about what should constitute the organising philosophy of black thought, black aspiration and black responsibility.It would not be correct if, as we seek to construct a new society, the ultimate ambition of black professionals is mimicking white elite lifestyles, believing that being accepted to the colonial courtyard of privilege constitutes the essence of economic transformation.

Social inheritanceIt would be amiss if, in seeking to correct what is wrong with our social inheritance, the only preoccupation of black professionals is about demanding of the erstwhile oppressors to lift and “bless” us, so we can remake ourselves in their image.Otherwise, empowerment will merely complement white entitlement to historical privilege with black-elite entitlement to larger crumbs that purchase co-optive silence.Rather, the black professional should, in outlook and aspiration, present a destination that is liberating of the erstwhile oppressor and the oppressed, to define the new in terms of its broader transformative value.South African intellectuals and their continental peers became an important frame of reference on theories of social change because they were better able to interrogate, and present solutions to a generic global problem: the intersection of race, class and gender. In that sense, SA remains a giant social experiment to which humanity shall always pay special attention.We can recount to no end the massive progress that has been made in the transformation process since 1994.

However, if since the political transition, we had been as prolific as before in conceptualising national objectives and acting in unity to realise them, would we have had the Marikana tragedy, the destructive effects of the #FeesMustFall campaign, and the self-immolation of Vuwani, where schools were destroyed to make a point about demarcation?

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