In the past few months South Africa has received a great deal of national and international attention for its treatment of foreign African nationals. Most call it “xenophobia”, fear/hatred of foreigners, and others call it “afrophobia” because its not Europeans or Americans who experience the brunt of this violence but Africans.
This is all very unfortunate and in my personal and professional capacity I condemn the violence. More than the violence, this article looks at the argument that the media and certain prominent individuals have used to condemn it, “…many speakers sought to remind South Africans that in the days of apartheid it was the rest of Africa that became a home for this country’s leaders, reminding them that its liberation was won with the support of the entire continent.”1 This general appeal to South Africans’ gratitude has been the consistent argument that’s been used to stop the violence against foreigners but how effective is this?
When you appeal to someone to do something for you because of all that you have done for them in the past you put yourself in a poor position. Firstly, gratitude is unquantifiable and therefore “unrepayable”. No one enjoys being in debt especially if its going to be held over their heads for the rest of their lives. It’s not sustainable to keep pulling the “we helped you out in apartheid” card because it comes across as though it doesn’t have limits. Why don’t we just open our borders? Why should we deport our fellow brothers and sisters? Why not give them on-the-spot citizenship, I mean they did help us out in apartheid. We could allow them to get grants, have their businesses to be certified according to BBBEE and vote, I mean, we are heavily immersed in an immeasurable and therefore un-payable debt to them for their positive contribution to our freedom. If the gratitude argument is not enough for on-the-spot citizenship and other bells and whistles then why should it be enough to stop the violence? What are the limits to this argument?
More important is that appeals to gratitude look in the past and not the future and they fail to acknowledge the most basic of human motivations, self-interest. We have all heard of stories of people betraying their spouses, friends, parents, mentors, business partners, their God (every time you sin) etc. All of the good deeds of the past were not enough for the betrayers because through their reasoning, whether accurate or not, the act of betrayal had a greater reward than the past. Surely this makes sense, what does it profit me to assist you, to remain faithful to you? To obey you?
So saying “South Africans, we must stop this violence against our fellow African brothers and sisters because they helped us in apartheid” without mentioning why it benefits us to do so won’t work long term. Other than the fact that gratitude is a weak argument on its own, newer generations of South Africans will not be able to appreciate what other African countries have contributed like their elders.
Then what should be the argument? Find out what’s important to the man on the street and appeal to that interest. Lets assume that I represent the man on the street (not that I am, not that I’m not). I would appreciate a statistical report by an independent body that explains that the benefits of having foreigners (legal and illegal) in South Africa far outweigh the costs. Not isolated stories of a Somali here or Malawian there with a business employing 5 South Africans but a report that takes into account a large enough sample size to be taken seriously. One that would explain that the economic benefit that we gain from their presence outweighs the increased pressure on our electrical grid, water and sanitation and any other costs we incur. I imagine that you would want something different and that’s fine because that’s what’s in your interests.
Now lets bring this back home – entrepreneurship. In your quest to build a business that is profitable, indispensable to the consumer and turns you into the next Aliko Dangote, you will consistently come across people that you need more than they need you. Its important to understand the interests of these individuals and other stakeholders in your business. No One Cares. No one cares that you come from a disadvantaged background, that your uncle is an MK veteran, that you are black, that you and your business are proudly South African or that your business is named after a verse in the bible. What do they care about? What you can do for them. Investors want to know that you can grow their money at a faster rate than the bank and other competing startups. Government departments and enterprise development programmes want to know that you can create jobs, develop skills and mention their contribution in the media when you’re successful. Customers want value in the form of money saved, better service, convenience, status, time saved etc.
Selflessness is like the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus, its a nice idea but completely fictitious. Even the most seemingly selfless acts are based on self-interest. When you sell your business, appeal to your audience’s selfish nature and nothing else! Convince them that it serves them to support you and you will get your way.
Founder and Director