Business Maverick

South Africa, Business Maverick

Casualties of Cola: THE MOVEMENT

Thabo Tsolo's house is a fading middle class property in a fading middle class neighbourhood in an old part of Johannesburg, with views of the same mine-dumps around which South African Breweries was born. On a Sunday in late November, Tsolo’s outdoor carport was transformed into a command centre. The Tsolo residence served as the unofficial headquarters of a movement called Golekane! (Tagline: Enuff is Enuff!) Inaugurated by Seipati Tsolo, Thabo’s wife, in 2012, Golekane! included at least 140 former ODs, the widows of eight deceased drivers, seven current contractors, and sundry lawyers and politicians. It’s one of innumerable hashtag-free, self-generated special interest groups that assemble in communities across South Africa every weekend. Democracy at work; revolution by a thousand cuts; epic whinge-fest: call it what you like, but Golekane! was formed to wrestle back a measure of the agency that was lost—Seipati would say stolen—when Thabo Tsolo signed that contract back in 2009.

This, then, is the logical endpoint of the 28-year-old empowerment programme initiated by a beer monopoly during the apartheid regime’s death rattle. Where in the old days ABI depots were the centre of drivers’ social and political lives, one of the OD scheme’s more obvious objectives—crushing the ability to organise—put an end to all of that. Seipati Tsolo’s collective emerged to fill the vacuum. The movement is occasionally riven by the squabbling characteristic of any group comprised of more than two people, but for the most part it’s a driver-led, driver-organised response to what its members believe were the injustices perpetrated by ABI and the half a dozen name-brand corporations that assisted them in instituting and maintaining what Golakane! allege was a fraudulent BEE scheme.

In the shade of the carport, beneath a baking sheet of corrugated iron, a rangy young man named Shaun Dlanjwa spat out preacher’s cadences to about 70 rapt Golekan-ites. “ABI, SABMiller—these people hate us,” said Dlanjwa. “So why do we romanticise them? The battle is about to begin, and we’re not going to rest until we defeat them.” As an EFF ward secretary and the intermediary between Golekane! and their legal representatives, he was there to bring members up to date on the court proceedings, while simultaneously campaigning for Julius Malema.

He needn’t have bothered with the latter item. Here, the EFF was an easy sell: almost everyone present was a member…

Read the full feature here.

Photo: Members of Golekane! prepare to march at an anti-corruption rally in downtown Johannesburg in September 2015. Their banner reads, “SABMiller/ABI Killer: down with BEE lies, owner-driver scam.” Photo credit: Shaun Swingler.