What Hammanskraal taught me about black economic success:

This was a tough place, not designed to nurture hopes and aspirations but, at best, to provide labour for the city of Pretoria and the farms surrounding it. But people made a life in the melting pot of languages and cultures that drew from each other’s strengths. In particular, Ndebele-speaking families were known to pool their resources in exceptionally successful rotating schemes, using them in two main ways — building sizeable houses and starting businesses, including entering the nascent taxi industry. They took the little that Hammanskraal gave anyone and multiplied it many times over.

There were other role models. A certain Habakuk Shikwane also once took refuge in Hammanskraal and built a thriving business there. This was a man who had started his cane manufacturing business from nothing to become an industrialist and an exporter. Herman Mashaba also comes to mind as an industrialist from those dusty streets.

This is to say, as a child in a place often dismissed or written about in horribly stereotypical ways, one was not short of good role models for economic success.

Studying economics and business in elite institutions did not make me feel as though I was being inducted into an unknown world. I did not harbour any doubt about my own people’s capability to achieve prosperity, even under the most difficult circumstances. Despite apartheid, some black South Africans found a way to attain some financial security. They would have been wealthier, no doubt, if left to flourish unconstrained.

So, I’m confused by the popular characterisation, perpetuated by racists, do-gooders and some black people, of black South Africans as economic innocents and illiterates who need every crutch imaginable to succeed. Or as superficial consumerists who can’t resist bling and debt. I see ordinary black people buckling under the weight of these stereotypes and assumptions, which threaten to be self-fulfilling.

Trudi Makhaya is CEO of Makhaya Advisory.

Read the rest here: Business Day

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