A false consciousness

24 May 2020

The silence of black elites in mining a big concern

In a letter to Franz Mehring in 1893, Friedrich Engels talks about what he terms “false consciousness” which, in the context used, is a subordinate class’ willful embodiment, to its detriment, of an ideology of a ruling class.

In a different context, Louis Althusser observes that false consciousness spawns “obedience, conformity and submissiveness” of the subordinate to the ruling class’ ideology. To him, ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to the real world.

Last week, I wrote about Frantz Fanon’s White Mask, Black Face and how, in the South African racism of today, we must resist attempts by the white elite to make us feel that transformation is shameful and should be discarded, especially at a time of crisis like we have now.

The corollary of the anti-transformation push by verkrampte organisations like Solidarity and AfriForum is a false consciousness by some black elites who, to the detriment of the black race, would have us believe that transformation is not a necessary condition for black progress in spite, of course, of the incalculable harm done by apartheid and preceding colonialism. They tell us that black people are lazy. That we are all equal. That broad-based BEE is not a permanent crutch for black people.

But what must concern us the most are black leaders, often in big corporates, who are often silent about transformation but at worse, act as the biggest impediments to transformation. Yes, we all know those who enjoy being “the first black person to…” achieve something. While breaking new ground is great, they must not, however, be the only black people around the table for forever.

Their silence on critical matters is troubling.

Take a decision by the Mineral Council South Africa (MCSA), formerly the Chamber of Mines, to litigate against the proposed 30% minimum BEE shareholding requirement under the Minerals Charter. Granted, the mining sector has always been anti-black. It was the primary terrain of struggle and much exploitation of black people when gold was discovered almost 200 years ago. The mineral wealth of our country has, for centuries, benefitted white families supported by a repressive set of laws enforced by successive colonial and apartheid regimes.

Today, when the constitution enjoins us not only to recognize injustices of the past, but to help heal our nation, the barons in charge of the mining council are of the view that 30% is a major impediment to their extraction of minerals of our land. And guess who the board “president” of the Mineral Council South Africa is: Mxolisi Mgojo.

A fine, very black, chap armed with an MBA, a CEO of Exxaro Resources from April 2016. The face of the fight against government’s attempts to force the mining sector to transform is black. Mgojo has three other vice presidents – Zanele Matlala, a chartered accountant, and Steve Phiri, a chief executive of Royal Bafokeng Platinum with a law background (LLM). The third is Neal Froneman, a white engineer with Sibanye.

When Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe goes to court to defend the need to include black people in ownership of South African mines, it is against a team led by these black people. How is it that black executives are happy to be the only ones included in this sector that has maimed so many black people? I would like to be wrong about this, but have these esteemed, I apologise if the use of esteem is misplaced, black people publicly objected to this anti-transformation agenda of the MCSA? Have they been assimilated? Or are they possessed of a fear to be kicked out should they dare speak a pro-transformation agenda? Or, as Althusser puts it, they are possessed of “obedience, conformity and submissiveness”?

Yes, as you may expect, the chief executive of the MCSA is white – Roger Baxter. Is that, perhaps, where true power lies? For as long as the case against Mantashe persists, so should the question about what the black, patently smart and educated people, occupying high positions in the MCSA are doing to support transformation. Is the industry just placing black people in strategic positions without the power to give this organisation, which has caused much pain to legions of black people, any power to redirect it?

Of course it’s not just about ownership. The proposed charter demands that mining firms spend a minimum of 70% of mining goods and 80% of services procurement on South African companies – within five years. It is plain that government is trying to force mining houses to spend locally in order to help generate jobs. Why would such smart, educated black people not want to help our country to transform? Or create jobs?

When leaders around the world, including the moronic US President Donald Trump, say save local jobs, the House Negroes in South African mining are saying what? As long as they are firmly ensconced in their positions, they are not just happy with an untransformed mining sector, they will fight government for trying to ensure inclusion.

In his affidavit, Mantashe says what the MCSA is trying to do will “defeat the whole purpose of transformation, being to bring historically disadvantaged South Africans into the mainstream economy”.

Now, this shows that the enemy of black progress is not always to be found outside, among the likes of AfriForum and Solidarity. A false consciousness in the minds of some black elites has found a fertile home. There is a frightening “obedience, conformity and submissiveness” that Althusser speaks of among the black elite. The self-hate that Biko taught us about. Black business leaders don’t always act in the interests of the black majority. Their education not withstanding, this affront on transformation by the black elite in mining is a great shame.



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