Empowering the empowered


BLACK economic empowerment (BEE)  is now a phrase that leaves a bittersweet taste in one’s mouth and a more offensive smell hanging in the air.

Sukoluhle Nyathi

Arguably this week Luminance, the R34,1 million luxury boutique, has hogged the spotlight as the debate raged on about how the already empowered blacks keep getting more empowered.

BEE was launched by the South African government with the ultimate goal to redress the inequalities of apartheid by giving previously disadvantaged groups a platform to enjoy economic privileges previously denied to them.

The cause was indeed a noble one with noble intentions. I am all for empowerment, especially the empowerment of black women.

Khanyi Dlomo is one of those women who became a blueprint for black female empowerment. She embodies beauty, brains and power which is a potent combination.

She made history by becoming the first female black anchor for SABC 1. I met Khanyi in my teens when she was at age 22, editor of True Love Magazine.

Although I couldn’t afford a copy of the magazine I would lose myself in copies borrowed from my sisters who read the magazine religiously. It was the first glossy black lifestyle and aspirational magazine that appealed to black women.

Just as we drew inspiration from its pages, we drew inspiration from Khanyi who was a role model for many young women.

We applauded her as she completed her bachelor degree in Communication, got married and had two children. Although she did not have the proverbial happily-ever-after ending, she had courage to walk away from a failed marriage.

She further impressed us when she went on to do an MBA at Harvard University and on her return to South Africa she established Ndalo Media which publishes Destiny Magazine, Destiny Man and Sawubona (SAA inflight magazine).

Luminance is her latest business venture which was inspired by her time spent in France during her tenure at the SA Tourism Board. Her dream was to bring hauté couturé to Hyde Park.

Contrary to popular opinion I absolutely have no issues with her deciding to play in the luxury goods market. I often work on economic feasibility studies for retail developments and there is a niche market for that upmarket high-end retail. I am not the target market and neither is the average Joe or Jill.

However, there are well heeled individuals in our society who can shop in Rue de la Pais or 5th Avenue in New York. Now they will be able to buy a Baby Dior bib for R960 or spend R80  000 on an Oscar de la Renta gown without having to catch a flight abroad.

As it’s been said, poverty is not a virtue, but wealth is not a crime either.  I have no doubt in my mind that somewhere in Soweto a young woman dreams of working hard, so she could buy a pair of Manolo Blahniks from that store.

So what then is the outrage about this million-dollar boutique you ask? Well simply put, it’s the fact that her million dollar dream was funded by tax payer’s money, a dream that could have been easily funded by commercial banks like Nedbank or Rand Merchant Bank.

In an interview she said the banking sector denied her a loan. Then I asked the question why a bank would not fund a viable business plan especially when the promoters had R15 million to inject into it! Moreover, Khanyi is a well known astute businesswoman with a proven track record.

Before anyone shoves the race card in my face I would like to point out that beyond the commercial and merchant banks, South Africa has a host of venture capitalists and private equity funds (plenty black-owned ones too) who have a natural appetite for risk.

So surely these should have been the conduit for funding and leaving government funding to empower 10 more Khanyis who are small-medium enterprises!  Then someone callously commented that the NEF is not a poverty reduction fund.

So I sat there thinking that in a country where a majority of households subsist on a monthly household income of less than R1 500, surely the mandate of any government funded institution should seek to fund developmental projects to empower those in the lower echelons of society.

Surely R34,1 million cannot be spend to create 51 indirect and direct jobs at a cost of R670 000 per job? It is almost sinful considering the gold-lined roads of Johannesburg don’t extend to all corners of this country!

Luminance  illuminates the negative perceptions associated with BEE. It is now seen as a preserve of the few well-connected individuals in society.  Furthermore it has given birth to a breed of elitist class of black diamonds further widening the gap between the black charcoals.

 Sukoluhle Nyathi is the author of the novel The Polygamist.
You can follow her  @SueNyathi