Africans need to master capital and live beyond their wages

A few years back, I wrote an article that to my surprise got picked up and published by the World Economic Forum (WEF). My idea remains that Africans must master all forms of capital to create wealth, economic and financial independence in their families, communities and nationally.

In that article, I mentioned physical capital, social capital, finance capital, human capital, and intellectual capital. Add to that cultural capital, which gives children a head-start at a young age.

Intellectual capital largely represents ideas, inventions, and innovations that you create especially those that can earn you royalties. Michael Jackson’s music earns stupendous income even though he is long dead, making at least $47.2-million (R892-million) per year.

The same cannot be said of Zahara, Brenda Fassie and many of our intellectual property producers. The lack of mastery of this subject caused them to lose out badly.

Intellectual capital when it is mastered creates incomes and wealth without daily work or wages and salaries. Other people pay you because you are an originator of valuable ideas and artifacts.

The idea of capital needs to enter African culture in a more explicit form. In isiXhosa or other indigenous languages, there is no clear word for capital. People can be heard expressing the idea in this form: “Ungumntu onezinto zakhe which loosely translates to, “that person has things that give them the ability to do things for themselves”.

Capital is something that can be used to produce other things including producing income and wealth. Capital is not what you consume, it is like a breeding bull, it is there to produce and reproduce.

Nkosana Makate has developed the “Please call me” idea, which is now worth R29-billion in his pockets without earning that money as a wage but as a reward for creating an intangible but valuable idea.

Makate represents a new type of African – one where the minds of Africans and their innovative creations are now recognised by law regardless of many unfavourable racial stereotypes that seek to keep Africans at the level of wage earners.

There is often a view that major and highly lucrative ideas and creations can only come from colonial masters.

It is safe to say that, by and large, copyrights, patents and intellectual property of black people were not automatically recognised in Western civilisation and were attributed to white employers and slave owners who then proceeded to create wealth from that.

Many white Westerners could not imagine what a black person could do with the wealth generated by intellectual capital.

Makate is a real stalwart of the economic struggle of Africans in Africa. Makate is a pioneer in intellectual capital and intellectual property from an African perspective and his ideas, beliefs and practices need to enter African culture and language and daily economic practice.

The Makate case also exposed the dishonesty and immoral behaviour of top executives in the country and “the thieving culture of big business”.

Ethics and sound morals in any company are determined by the board of directors, CEOs and executive committee.

That demonstration of sound morals by top corporate leaders is called “the tone at the top”. Other scholars say any fish rots from the head, and this was the case at telecom organisations today.

The board of directors has allowed lies and reckless litigation to be pursued by the organisation against Makate to steal a minimum of R29-billion from Makate for his true invention as determined by our courts.

The courts reveal truths we have all along known. Alan Knott-Craig was the CEO of Vodacom when this entire Makate saga started. Worse, than that he profiled himself as the genius who invented “Please Call Me”.

Knott-Craig, with his biographer Eunice Afonso, wrote in Second is Nothing in Chapter 10 “Rollercoaster Ride 1994 to 1999”: “The Please Call Me idea happened by chance.

Alan was leaning over the railing of the Vodacom building chatting to a colleague, Phil Geissler, when Phil pointed out one security guard trying to attract another’s attention, and because his buddy didn’t see him, the security guard called him on his cellphone.

“Alan immediately spoke to Leon [Leon Crouse] about creating a Please Call Me service. Because the Please Call Me SMS sent was free, Vodacom made money by adding short advertisements just below the message, but the real money came from the return call.

The concept generated hundreds of millions in revenue. By 2008, Vodacom generated 20 million Please Call Me requests daily.”

The many boards of directors and executive teams of Vodacom and their auditors have been aware of this untruthfulness and chicanery for several years and shamelessly defended it. Dishonesty from the top.

The tragedy is that big business and white senior executives are often painted as the paragons of virtue, creativity and productivity and the opposite for black South Africans and Africans in general.


  • Swana is a political analyst, and academic and a member of the 70s Group.

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