Tuesday, May 3, 2016

WE HAVE TO START BUILDING SA'S REAL WEALTH ELOK'SHINI

This article first appeared in the Business Times section of The Sunday Times on 24 April 2016.

One of the key success factors of the apartheid system was the meticulous manner in which Hendrik Verwoerd and his cronies ensured that black people, notwithstanding their demographic dominance, remained disenfranchised by virtue of how their living and working spaces were planned.

Townships date back to the late 1800s, when black people were forcibly removed from areas white settlers wanted for themselves.

But the colonists were clever enough not to "throw the baby out with the bath water". They didn't want to lose the benefits attached to easy access to cheap labour, so they built "locations" to place blacks at the periphery of their "whites-only" towns and cities.

They then ensured that the lack of development in these lokasies would keep blacks forever enslaved and dependent on the measly wages earned from working in kitchens and factories - wages designed to be inadequate for a decent living.

The democratic government inherited this huge spatial problem that entrenched and sustained the inequality between rich whites and poor blacks. A problem that many say will take at least a generation to reverse.

The dawn of democracy saw many black people moving into former "whites-only" suburbs and their children attending former Model C schools. These were the lucky ones. Most worked very hard, despite the odds set up by an oppressive system of government, to be able to afford the high house prices and municipal rates and school fees required to be a resident in the 'burbs.

However, the vast majority were left behind.

While the rise of the black middle class added some colour to boardrooms, schools and neighbourhoods that had been exclusively pale, it didn't move the needle on economic inclusivity.

It soon became clear that black people moving into whites-only communities was no way to emancipate South Africans at scale.

We have to do it the hard way.

We have to transform these townships into dignified living and working spaces - and perhaps one day the pride of a truly free society.

This is why I was so chuffed to hear both the Ekurhuleni mayor, Mondli Gungubele, and Tshwane's mayor, Kgosientso Ramokgopa, address the issue of building township economies.

Ekurhuleni has developed five new township economic hubs at a cost of R90-million a year; awarded projects worth R140-million to 20 emerging contractors and will soon take on 100 more, including another 100 construction supervisors, to carry out projects worth R500-million; and awarded R350-million worth of procurement opportunities to local companies owned by women, young people and people with disabilities, as part of the R2.9-billion ring-fenced Mintirho ya Vulavula community empowerment programme.

In Tshwane, the city's free Wi-Fi, branded "TshWi-Fi", has been a tremendous success. Access to data has a very positive impact on the economic prospects of a population. The citizens of Tshwane get fast speeds and 500MB of free Wi-Fi every day. There are now 776 TshWi-Fi zones in the city, according to research firm BMI-T.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, free Wi-Fi elok'shini.

Just think of the socioeconomic dividends we will earn when our people can establish thriving businesses where they live.

One of my favourite ad campaigns is by Liberty, the owners of Sandton City. The financial services powerhouse founded by Donald Gordon likens its rise to that of its iconic development in Sandton.

"This is the richest square mile in Africa, and the powerhouse of its economy. But it didn't start that way," says the TV commercial.

I long for the day we can read the story of a black South African entrepreneur's rise and liken their journey to the rise of a township.

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