I CANNOT forget how grateful I was to be able to walk into the United States Information Centre library in Harare back in the day and be able to pore through this one magazine among many others.
It did not matter that I was holding in my hand back-issues of the iconic magazine, but it was truly uplifting to be able to read about the titans of black business enterprise in its pages.
The fact that my generation grew up reading about the likes of Kubi, the cosmetics company by celebrity couple Kubi Chaza and John Indi, the likes of Mushandira Pamwe Hotel owned by Solomon Tawengwa, Mverechena Bus services, Shoe Shine Bus Company owned by the Hall family, to name but a few, always fired up my imagination.
As a boy, walking around Marimba Park in Harare and admiring those big houses belonging to the Samuriwos and other black notaries of the day was just the sort of pastime that got me wishing for a different life.
But we do not all get to be businesspeople. Some have to be writers like myself, teachers, doctors and lawyers. In all of these vocations and pursuits, all are searching and presumably working toward the good life, however, they define it for themselves.
Not all will attain the good life. Some will live life out miserably, scraping the bottom of the barrel. My hope in all that we as a people do is that we be excellent and prepare something for the next generation to stand on as a foundation and move forward.
Generational wealth translates to real empowerment and the eradication of poverty within families and by extension the communities. So far, I daresay, most of the famous black entrepreneurs died with their businesses. There is no sense of continuity in terms of wealth creation. Is there something in the water we have been drinking?
In search of Wakanda
Although Wakanda is a fictitious country depicted in the Black Panther movie, for me it is in many ways an idealised world of cross-cutting black excellence.
This past week, Earl Graves, founder of Black Enterprise magazine, the foremost black business bible of the past 40 years, passed away after a long bout of Alzheimer’s. He was 85 years old and is survived by his sons Michael, Johnny, and Earl, who is running the family business.
The magazine chronicled the achievements of African-Americans in business. Having worked as an administrative assistant on late US attorney-general and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy’s campaign, Graves set out to establish a magazine after the assassination of Kennedy in 1968.
Together with his wife Barbara and a few other staff members, after borrowing US$250 000 from Chase Manhattan bank, the magazine took off. Graves was so successful in selling the magazine concept to advertisers such as Pepsi and Exxon Mobil that he was able to repay the loan he had taken in a short time.
The magazine profiled the rise of media moguls Oprah Winfrey and Russell Simmons, business leaders Ken Chenault, fashion label founders Fubu Daymond and Karl Kani of Karl Kani Infinity, to name a few. These profiles gave the African-American community alternative pathways to success. One did not necessarily have to be a sports star or musician to “make” it in this life.
Importance of representation
Representation is very important. Representation is how issues affecting a certain group of people are portrayed or presented through the instrumentality of the mass media. The narratives about black people on the continent has largely been one of desperation and helplessness. A magazine such as Black Enterprise is important in that it propagates different narratives of black lives.
Why this is important is because it speaks to one of my long-standing beliefs that the only antidote for black mediocrity is black excellence. My definition of excellence includes accountability and commitment to high performance in whatever field of endeavour.
It does not matter in the end what we blame other people for or what they have actually done. What matters is our own actions. We are, as one famous person once observed, the people we have been waiting for.
What this means is that our businesses, professions, and systems of government must evolve to a point where we take pride in delivering the best possible service. It must become a cultural norm for one to take pride in doing the best and making the most of what we have.
No amount of aid will lift us out of the economic quagmire. For example, the auditor-general’s reports of the last couple of years have delivered evidence of maladministration. No one has paid for it. So how exactly would loans change the fact that we have a systemic black hole albeit even cultural malady of a lack of care about the nation’s survival?
To quote my mother, “musadye kunge vanhu vari kupfuura” — do not eat like passers-by. Her sense resonates for me today when I project it to the national sphere. Our leaders eat like there is another country they are going to go to and live. I suppose for them their largesse can support it. But the moral of this piece is that till we are able as a people to be inspired by other examples of black enterprise and pride; we will always be basket cases needing aid.
There is no excellence without pride in oneself. There is no accountability without sanction or public anger. Someone must feel the bite of our vengeance when caught stealing public funds. The saddest part of it all is that the scourge of corruption is now a deeply embedded cultural norm, which needs uprooting today. We badly need examples of fortitude and black excellence in our midst.