Ubuntu work ethic
I wanted to write about flowers today and other nice peaceful activities but I thought against it – but to hell with it. Instead I will speak about the “ubuntu work ethic” or more specifically the common lack of it.
I often find myself cringing in my own discomfort when I use the term “black people”. I have become much to accustomed to having to smile and consume the unreasonable ideas and ambitions of many black people. Perhaps the reason why I have been a magnet for this kind of drivel is because I am not a very successful person but this column is not about me or my short comings so allow me the significant pleasure of pointing out everybody else’s misfortunes.
Almost two decades into democracy the common excuses of apartheid and failed democracy are wearing thin. Many black people have made a significant amount of headway in the financial sector; sushi and blue cheese are now the common flags of success. Unfortunately whilst we are busy buttering up our croissants a lot of people are still suffering. It would be inhumane of me to say that I do not care about them but I must acknowledge that I have somewhat become desensitized to South African poverty. My philanthropy went away when I enrolled into journalism. In fact I (as I’m sure have many of you) become much to accustomed to our nations misgivings. Seeing a man begging at a streetlight or a long line at a homeless shelter has become a regular past time, much like watching Generations every other night.
The real reason why I think we (black) people have not made the strides that we want to make in life, is not because of a lack of policy or because Jacob Zuma is busy getting another wife. In fact I believe it is because of the contrary, lack of personal capacity and ambition. I have studied and worked with all South African race groups and the standard that sets other groups (particularly whites and Indians) apart from the rest is the work ethic. Very often you find that Whites have family businesses, they teach their children from an early age what it means to work.
How often have you walked into an Indian shop and not found what you were looking for, and subsequently been taken by the shop owner to another Indian shop owner where the item you are looking for can be found. A lot of black people (myself included) approach this kind of act with a neo-Allelic mindset. We look at them like they are crazy and think, “What are they doing, I would never go give the money away to another person”. This is one of the reasons that have seen a lot of their businesses go from informal little affairs to much bigger operations. It’s a kind of empowerment that cannot be implemented via BBBEE or any other socio economic policy. It’s about keeping the money where it is needed, within your personal circle.
If you look at the taxi industry in South Africa, it is the biggest black run sector of the economy. Millions of South African’s depend on this system to get from point A to point B and then from point B to point C. Unfortunately this sector has been plagued for years by that seminal disease called the Ubuntu work ethic. One of the determinants that the Ubuntu work ethic stipulates is that everything must be done man to man. It’s a kind of mafia style approach to business. Although to their credit many taxi drivers have been disarmed from this operating method but there is still a lack of formalization in the sector.
Drivers generally don’t earn UIF for example, the owners have no responsibility to the drivers should they have an accident and so on. Very often we speak about what “white people” or “Indian people” are doing to oppress us economically, yet we pay very little attention to the bigotry right at our doorstep. The kind of blame exemption we give ourselves is staggering. Here we are in 2011, one of the economic nerves of the country is run by blacks and there is no real consequential structure. Well, at least we don’t have to worry about paper work.
Perhaps we need to worry less about radical ideas such as nationalizing mines and pay more specific attention to making sure that we start taking into account services and sectors that affect the majority of our population. Perhaps once we are done with that we can try something really amazing like rooting out corruption. So until then please, enough! No more talk about black oppression, if I want to feel sorry for myself and for blacks in general I will watch a Sarafina rerun. That is about as far as my immediate sympathy is willing to stretch.