Lifetime Achievement Award: Dr Sam Motsuenyane

Representatives of Dr Sam Motsoenyane collecting his Lifetime Achievement Award from MEC Lebogang Maile

Representatives of Dr Sam Motsoenyane collecting his Lifetime Achievement Award from MEC Lebogang Maile

Dr Sam Motsuenyane, the doyen of black business, was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Township Entrepreneurship Awards on Saturday April 8 for his pioneering work in promoting entrepreneurship and black business in the townships during the dark days of apartheid.

Due to his wife being in hospital, Motsuenyane was unfortunately unable to attend the awards ceremony. The prestigious award was presented to his family by MEC of Economic Development Lebogang Maile at Carnival City’s Big Top Arena in Brakpan, Ekurhuleni.

Motsuenyane is the founding chairman of African Bank and was president of the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce (Nafcoc) for more than 24 years.

In an interview, Motsuenyane paid tribute to the emerging class of black entrepreneurs in the townships across South Africa, who are making their mark in various fields including the creative industries, tourism, retail and finance, manufacturing, agri-business, transport, the automotive and components business, construction and real estate.

Motsuenyane says black South Africans should change their mindsets and become job creators instead of just becoming job seekers. He urges black South Africans to embrace the spirit of entrepreneurship.

“I think it’s going to take years to break the culture of dependency on whites, and create jobs for ourselves as black people. It’s a vicious cycle, but we need to break away from the culture of depending on white people for jobs. I concede that it’s a culture that was cultivated over a long time by the laws and policies of colonialism and apartheid rule; black people were immensely dependent on the white population for giving them work, and creating jobs where blacks were just workers,” says Motsuenyane.

“We need to inculcate a culture of entrepreneurship at schools — starting at primary [school] level — by promoting the Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum. Our school and education system is not geared towards entrepreneurship.

“We are still trapped in the culture of the past, where blacks depended on white people for jobs. Unemployment will not be decreased. They [whites] are a minority in our country and their population is [small] compared to blacks. If we do not create jobs ourselves, we are going to live with unemployment for a long time.

“As our government is talking about radical economic development, they have to go to the root of the problem. We have to start [a] new culture of wanting to be independent. I have been preaching that we need to be job creators, and not just job seekers and consumers.

“We come from a horrible suppression. We couldn’t even get burglar-proofing without a licence from government. I am grateful the government has raised the tempo of development and radical economic transformation. How do you do it? That’s the big question.”

Motsuenyane says government should continue to fund and support SMMEs.

“I think what is lacking here is that the BEE (black economic empowerment) policy is not addressing radical economic development and transformation. Instead it propagates a gradual and evolutionary process. Government must be seen funding SMMEs where they [blacks] are controlling shareholders in the companies. If whites join them they should be minor partners and not control the direction [of the business].”

At 90 this year, Motsuenyane is undoubtedly one of South Africa’s best-known and most successful entrepreneurs, with an interest in almost every major business sector of the country’s economy.

Over the course of his 60 years in business, Motsuenyane has dabbled in everything from retail to banking. His journey as an entrepreneur took place against the backdrop of apartheid South Africa — he has run Nafcoc through the dark days of apartheid until post-apartheid SA.

He got where he is today because of his ability to think big, despite the challenges thrust upon him by apartheid. During his 24-year tenure as Nafcoc president, various businesses and companies were founded, including African Bank Limited.

Asked to speak about the highs and lows of his tenure at Nafcoc, Motsuenyane says it was “the best of times, and worst of times”.

“The lows: we were fighting government legislation to debar black people from being involved in mainstream economy of the country. We faced a difficult problem. The government didn’t feel happy that we wanted to compete with our white counterparts in business and the economy,” says Motsuenyane.

“One of the highs was when we succeeded to establish the African Bank — it took us 10 years to raise R10-million. The government imposed many obstacles, which were not of a business nature, but political … we were forced to have white bosses on the board of the African Bank. The other important development was when we started the Black Chain in Soweto. We wanted to target the buying power of black people. Black income doesn’t circulate for a long time in the black community, because we are a nation of consumers. We end up supporting the same people we are running from. We must spend our money in the townships. That is the challenge of the future.”

In A Testament of Hope: The Autobiography of Dr Sam Motsuenyane, Motsuenyane speaks glowingly about the day African Bank was launched.

“Just after we said ‘amen’, the rain came down in torrents,” says Motsuenyane. “The streets in the township were flowing with water and people shouting, pula (rain)… We sang ‘Glory Hallelujah’ when our long-cherished dream was transformed into reality.”

This week, he bemoaned the deteriorating state of affairs at Nafcoc.

“We are not happy at all with the state of Nafcoc today. Nafcoc is divided. During our time it was powerful and united,” he says.

“We spoke with one voice for a long time and exerted a lot of influence and the National Party government of the day, [who] developed fear of our power and influence, because Nafcoc then was a uniting force in the country. If we are not united at the level of Nafcoc, we will remain weak and ineffective.”

About the Awards

The annual Township Entrepreneurship Awards form part of the Gauteng Township Economy Revitalisation Strategy, which aims to contribute to the overall vision of a country with an economy that can sustainably meet the material needs of all its citizens by 2030.

Within the first year of government implementing the township economy renewal strategy, it spent R1.8-billion on goods and services from township entrepreneurs, with an additional R1.6-billion being spent by municipalities.

MEC Lebogang Maile said the Gauteng Township Economy Revitalisation Strategy stresses that 90% of the 11 million new jobs to be created by 2030 will come from Small, Micro and Medium Enterprises (SMMEs), and that the City’s growth path should be inclusive and equitable.

“It is important that robust efforts are made to revitalise the township economy and develop new, innovation-driven industries to ensure inclusive participation in the economy; and grow the SMME sector, recognising its fundamental role as a key driver of employment creation and socioeconomic development.” 

Charles Molele

Charles Molele

Charles Molele is a senior politics reporter at the Mail & Guardian. Charles joined the paper in 2011. He has covered general news, court and politics for the past 19 years, and also worked as a senior reporter for the Saturday Star, Sunday World, ThisDay, Sunday Times and is former politics editor of the New Age. Charles's other career highlights include covering Kenya's violent general elections (2007/08), Zimbabwe’s sham general elections (2008), Mozambique's food riots (2010) and the historic re-election of US President Barack Obama (2012). Read more from Charles Molele

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