On 4 September the Facebook page Black Capitalist, which promotes small businesses, shared photographs of “ghetto fabulous” shacks a young man called Tebogo from Mabopane in Pretoria builds.
With the same materials millions use to fashion homes and shelters across South Africa – corrugated iron and wood – Tebogo designs homes that are simple, sturdy, with clean lines and big windows. It is the kind of construction that could easily feature in a fashionable tiny homes curation on Pinterest.
The young designer-builder already employs two people, the administrator informed us. By 12 September Tebogo’s handiwork had received over 5,000 likes and 355 comments and been shared 6,000 times. Everyone wants Tebogo.
In January a group of businesspeople in Pretoria fixed 500 potholes in the city in four days. A team of eight South Africans posed smiling afterwards.
Each day a new self-made success is celebrated. The page is one of dozens on the social media platform that have enabled small entrepreneurs, including backyard and open-field farmers, to grow and make a living. Rules and regulations aside.
From street barbers and carvers of beautiful wooden serving plates tailor-made for shisanyama feasting to chicken and pig farmers and burger joints started during Covid, South Africans are hustling like mad, on their own.
‘… To be their own liberators’
Long ago, and far away, it was former president Thabo Mbeki who once urged South Africans to get up and do things for themselves.
At the 90th anniversary of the ANC in Durban in 2002, Mbeki launched a campaign urging citizens to engage in a spirit of volunteerism and “focus on the mobilisation of our people actually to engage in the process of continuing to be their own liberators, of occupying the front line in the popular struggle for the reconstruction and development of our country”.
For Mbeki, this appeal was part of his vision of the African Renaissance in action. And so it was that 2002 was declared “the year of the volunteer”.
What followed was not an era of Reconstruction and Development, but one of Opportunism and Corruption. A time when government officials and criminal cartels white-anted state-owned enterprises and drained R37-billion from public funds.
Helping ourselves appeared to have been interpreted differently by those deployed governing party ministers and officials who now find themselves at the receiving end of the law for their misdeeds.
Somewhere over the rainbow
“Meet Anna Phosa, one of SA’s very few female black commercial pig farmers. Her company, Dreamland Piggery & Abattoir in the Vaal, was started in 2004 with four piglets and went on to secure a multimillion-rand contract and supply Pick n Pay with pigs (around 100/week)”.
If you are looking for some more cheery news from the ground up, here we go.
“Hi, my name is Siphumelele Mathe and I’m the founder of Ekhayakhulu Grills. I live in Kokstad Bhongweni at an area called Ezibeleni.”
Covid-19 restrictions and a job loss prompted Mathe to do “what I love most, and sell food at my late grandmother’s house. I started off with grilled food and later added traditional meals”.
Two years later, the business has expanded to include pizzas and platters, and a bakery is planned.
Then there is Kgotso Sebata, founder of Impossible Projects based in Alexandra, who makes a living collecting trash at events, schools and shopping centres.
NGOs to the rescue
Non-governmental organisations thrive in countries where politicians and officials do not have the skills or the will to deliver on constitutional obligations.
NGOs show up governments, which is why there is such hostility towards them in countries where leadership has failed. The ANC’s response to the horrific inferno in Marshalltown, Johannesburg, in which 77 people perished, was to blame NGOs.
Meanwhile, it is little wonder that mock-polled South Africans said Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of the NGO Gift of the Givers, would make a great president.
In Nyanga and Khayelitsha, Cape Town, Abalimi Bezekhaya, going strong since 2008, not only supplies vegetables to local retailers, but also teaches home and community gardeners to grow them organically. As we speak, its members are planting for spring.
Privatisation by vacuum
One of the most visible and impactful examples of citizens doing it for themselves is the taxi industry, which grew into the monster economy it is because of government failure.
Private schools like the Curro franchise, which is listed on the JSE, offer a more affordable, quality education than that provided in South Africa’s neglected public schools.
There has been a massive “bottom-up” transition to renewable energy in the country, with investment in rooftop solar of “at least R65-billion”. About R54-billion of this has been made since March last year, according to Professor Mark Swilling, co-director of the Centre for Sustainability Transitions at Stellenbosch University.
Gated communities across the country, too, have essentially taken on the responsibilities of security and public amenities such as parks, gardens, swimming pools and tennis courts. These used to be public.
Making the law work
We even have private prosecutions whereby citizens can obtain justice should the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) decline to press charges.
Successful examples are the first consumer class action against websites conning people into signing up for unwanted debit orders. In August, the Constitutional Court upheld the lawsuit brought by Stellenbosch University’s law clinic on behalf of hundreds of South Africans who were criminally fleeced and found no remedy in public prosecution.
Another application for the certification of a class action was filed on 15 August against South32, BHP Billiton and Seriti Power by coal miners who had contracted incurable lung diseases while employed by these mining giants.
The case was initiated by the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Human rights lawyer Richard Spoor promised to soon target Glencore, Exxaro and Anglo Coal (now Thungela Resources).
Back in 2017, former NPA pitbull prosecutor Gerrie Nel was appointed to head up AfriForum’s private prosecutions unit.
Nel is presently chasing ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula based on a 2018 report by the Public Protector that Mbalula, as sports minister, allegedly holidayed in Dubai in 2016, with all expenses paid by Sedgars Sport director Yusuf Dockrat.
Even Jacob Zuma has sought justice in this unique way, deploying a private prosecution not only against President Cyril Ramaphosa, but also against state prosecutor Billy Downer and journalist Karyn Maughan.
In this instance, the law was upheld and Zuma’s abuse of this unique process was shot down.
Feel free, fellow citizens; you are. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.