Late Dr Sam Motsuenyane was the doyen of black business

The late Dr Sam Motsuenyane unflinchingly dedicated his entire life towards undoing the apartheid legacy without geographical, racial and gender discrimination.

He always helped others and was determined to preserve the good name of black business, its independence and culture. Always acting in our shared history and pride.
He democratised business in thousands of neighbourhoods. The man urged action, not caution, that it is better to err on the side of action and taking risks rather than playing safe. That in life, it is more useful to be decisive than to be correct.

Tim Modise and I went three times to 10 Morgan in Winterveld, near Tshwane, to visit the 97-year-old at his home. Amongst many things discussed and planned, we wanted to ensure wide and deep distribution of his books. A Testament of Hope: The Autobiography of Dr Sam Motsuenyane and Tlhago Ya Bakwena-ba-Mmatau Le Kutu Ya Se-Motsuenyane, a book breaking down the family tree rooted in farming the land.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Dr Motsuenyane was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Township Entrepreneurship Awards in 2017. The award was for his pioneering work in promoting entrepreneurship and black business in the townships during the dark days of apartheid.

The doyen of black business, widely regarded as the father of black business, also served as a member of parliament. He was the first South African ambassador to the Gulf States (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Yemen) in 1996. Dr Motsuenyane also served as leader of the House in the Senate (now known as the National Council of Provinces).

He led the “Motsuenyane Commission of Inquiry” into Human Rights abuses. A recipient of the National Order of the Baobab (Gold) in recognition of his role in fostering the development of black-owned businesses and economic liberation. He founded the Dr Sam Motsuenyane Rural Development Foundation. The foundation was created to address the challenges which impede the development of township and rural communities.  Its roots are anchored in townships and rural areas. This is where some of its flagship agricultural projects in grain, vegetables and citrus production are located. They span from Gauteng, North West and Mpumalanga.

Founding member of Nafcoc

He nostalgically told us about the first National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industries (Nafcoc, the oldest black organisation). He recalled its conference in May 1964. About R70 was put on the table by organised black business, to advance the development of the “people’s bank”. This was pretty much like (the old Afrikaner bank) “Volkskas”!

The target was R1-million, which was the minimum equity required then to establish a bank back then. Dr Motsuenyane, who later became the founding chairman of the African Bank, was the inaugural president of Nafcoc. Together with his colleagues, he traversed all corners of the country to secure a broad-based buy-in. It came via the “One Hundred Rand (R100) per participant” project.

This momentum was boosted by some “homeland” leaders. KwaZulu (Zululand government) under the leadership of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, put up R25,000. The R1-million target was attained. African Bank launched its first branch, 11 years later in 1975 in Ga-Rankua (now GaRankuwa)! A total of R10-million was ultimately raised.

The truly amazing and beautiful story of resilience ended with the meltdown of African Bank. With billions of rands worth of value destroyed.  The bank’s then CEO Leon Kirkinis also left. African Bank was placed under curatorship in 2014, collapsed by years of reckless lending and a spiral in bad debt.

There are more than 20 banks that failed. Those that failed during the period from 1994 to date include Prima Bank, Sechold Bank and Community Bank. Also Islamic Bank, FBC Fidelity Bank, New Republic Bank, Regal Treasury, Saambou and BoE. VBS Mutual Bank was the 13th bank in almost 30 years to go through the process in South Africa. It was the first since African Bank’s collapse.

Pioneered many black businesses in the townships

Dr Reuel Khoza once said: “We can say, without any fear of contradiction, that Sam Motsuenyane’s leadership defined an era in South African economic history. Practical manifestations of that epoch include … many valiant efforts. These are the Black Chain, African Bank and later Thebe, Nail, Rail, Saflige, Capital Alliance and WIP. Valuable lessons were learned from these initiatives by those who cared to observe and learn.”

In 2014, during the failure of African Bank, the SARB’s commitment to protecting the integrity of the system saw it take the extraordinary step. That of participating in the rescue process as both a regulator and a shareholder. The structure adopted at that time, involved the SARB, the GEPF, and five other banks. It was aimed at illustrating the sense of trust that exists within the system.

Our heartfelt and sincere sympathies and condolences to ‘Mmé Joceline, the remaining children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Business associates, as well as members of the broader Motsuenyane Clan. This especially having just been struck by the double tragedy of the passing of their eldest son Phukwi Palmer Motsuenyane. Also the passing of their daughter-in-law, Pinkie Mosima Motsuenyane. She was the wife of advocate Lebone Motsuenyane, on April 1.

Robala ka kagiso, Mokwena wa MmaTau!

Bonang Mohale is the Chancellor of the University of the Free State, former president of Business Unity South Africa.

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