We must empower our own first

We must empower our own first

In 1998, I was the only Mosotho on a South African performing arts group that toured the East Coast of Africa for four months. We travelled widely throughout the US cities, towns, colleges, universities and high schools promoting the powerful South African story of racial reconciliation through theatre.
It was my first time in the US. I was thrilled to have landed in “the land of the free and home for the brave”, the land where Superman is the hero and where everything is possible.
We stayed in hotels and mostly, we were hosted in the homes of Americans. I am forever grateful for the families that opened their homes for us. We shared our lives with them and they in turn shared their stories.

When we were in Long Island we stayed with Prof Johnson. He stayed alone because his kids were in university. He had a huge double storey house. Prof Johnson, hosted Brendon and I in his home. Brendon was a white South African.

Since we had a hectic schedule and only came back late in the evenings, we decided to sleep on one bed in order to spend the little time we had, sharing our African stories. Prof. Johnson was really excited to hear the South African story of racial reconciliation and the Madiba magic. We would engage him until very late in the evenings.

We stayed with Prof Johnson for two weeks and every day, Brendon would make his request known to Prof that he wanted to study in the US.
Towards the end of the second week I was getting uncomfortable with Brendon’s nagging requests. Prof Johnson would always find a way to brush him off and change the subject.
On the last day, we woke up very early and started talking. Brendon decided to go and bath. The moment he turned the water on, Prof Johnson, jumped out of blankets like a rocket and opened his wardrobes, and began whispering, as he was pointing at his jackets, jerseys, shirts and perfumes, saying “this is new, please take it. Put it in your bag quickly.

He then reached for an envelope on the table and gave it to me. In it were application forms for his university and told me to fill them before I returned to Africa and send them back to him.
I took the gifts Prof Johnson generously gave me and put them in my bag. He then said a profound statement “I empower my own first”.
I have never forgotten that powerful statement. At first I did not agree with Prof Johnson and I decided not to fill the application forms. I felt like I was cheating on Brendon who had made known his request to study in the US. I wanted to be loyal to Brendon.

But I was so wrong. Brendon’s own got him a scholarship a year later and he went back to the US to study. Today, Brendon lives and works in the US. I learned the hard way, but the principle remains with me till today, “I empower my own first”.
I will dwell on the empowerment of our own people (indigenous Basotho) today. According to the New Webster’s Dictionary, the verb “to empower” is defined as “to give power to”, or “to enable” someone.
Unfortunately as a nation, we are not in the business of empowering our own but rather disempowering our own people. We have failed to enable our own people to participate in economic activities.
Our nation is suffering from a chronic repetition of fundamental mistakes of empowering foreigners.
Due to a history of colonialism and lack of skills in highly specialised fields, the country’s economic activities are dominated by foreigners.
The exploitation of mineral resources (diamonds and water) has all too often led to corruption and a large proportion of the national resources and revenues benefiting the political elite and foreigners rather than the general population.

In our attempt to regulate the industry, foreign diamond dealers forced us to legalise the disempowerment of indigenous artisanal miners. We have killed our own people trying to please foreign diamond dealers at the expense of our own people. Look at the case of mining companies that have violated human rights.
There is environmental damage to water sources, ill-health effects from pollution, death and injury resulting from conflicts between protesters and the police.

These mining companies fail to adequately compensate our own people. Yet the government has decided to turn a blind eye on these matters affecting our own people.
The masses of our people do not have access to clean water yet we export water to South Africa in large quantities every day. Our water is used in building and sustaining industries in Johannesburg.

We gave a monopoly on the supply of red meat to a Chinese national who advises the government on the economy. The Chinese currently control the red meat industry, manufacturing, retail, wholesale, wool and mohair and government procurement.
Indians currently dominate the real estate. In other words they control the largest parts of our cities and towns. They own prime land. Nigerians are also slowly moving in by buying prime land in Sea Point in Maseru.

Ethiopians have moved us out of our fat cakes (makoenya) and chips business. In every town, they dominate the makoenya industry.
South Africans dominate the mining procurement and the chain stores in shopping centres and they fully own our water.
We have a leadership that does not acknowledge nor recognise the degree of the present day economic enslavement and the necessity for emancipation.
We cannot remain satisfied with the status quo. That would lead to disaster. We must reclaim our economy from foreigners who seem to dominate every area of the economy. We must embrace the economic empowerment of Basotho, our own indigenous people.

Economic empowerment of our own people must be pursued vigorously without fear and apology. We must never apologise for empowering our own people. Basotho must be in the driving seat of their country’s economy. We can no longer be passive and bemused spectators as foreigners control our economy.

Looking at the government and private sector, generally indigenous Basotho participation in major economic activities and opportunities is not significant, and I don’t think it’s a good indicator for sustainable economic development. We must empower our own. It’s time to localise and indigenise government and private sector sourcing, procurement and employment.

By: Ramahooana matlosa

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