As someone who shops for clothes at Woolworths, almost exclusively, but with a love for Timberland boots, I have little knowledge of the value of a store like Luminance.
It would scare me off with the gloss and the starting prices in the triple zeros.
But I am a Khanyi Dhlomo fan girl and have been since she brought panache to our television screens and then went on to become one of the first black women to edit a major magazine. She is a role model.
And to me her image grew even more when she opened Luminance. So what if she used money from the National Empowerment Fund (NEF)? At the end of the Luminance debate, I am left saddened by the racial prejudices all this loopiness has revealed.
For one, I’ve learnt that, yet again, there is a sense of discomfort with rich black people. This comes from white people and black people alike.
The double standard is so thick, it will hit you twice. Take this example: Space baron and IT guru Mark Shuttleworth justifiably deserves our admiration for his serial entrepreneurship and his Hip To Be Square education campaign.
But earlier this year, Shuttleworth took the state to court to battle its foreign exchange controls. It was a folly and he lost, but he was painted as a David against Goliath, a hero. But is he really?
Around the world, the movement is towards tax compliance and towards corporates being good citizens who pay their dues in the face of National Treasuries buckling under serial recessions.
Europe is considering a tax on hot money transactions, so Shuttleworth is out of step. But here he is regarded as a maverick and a hero for trying to get his money into a tax shelter. His friend Khanyi Dhlomo, meanwhile, is treated as a pariah for getting a soft loan from the state.
Some of the commentary about her has been shocking.
From sites where pale males hold sway, the narrative is of her as a spoilt, state-fed leech, rather than as a young and dynamic woman who wants to give luxury-brands maven Johann Rupert a run for his money.
You think we’d be happy.
White people, in the main, have never been comfortable with black empowerment, despite the fact that apartheid was a huge and long affirmative action campaign. At the other edge of the debate was an equally worrying racial trend: black-on-black jealousy.
“Why did she get it and not me?” went the chatter on radio stations that ironically go by names such as Kaya and Power. The NEF is not a poverty eradication programme; it’s a plan to encourage black business to get off the ground and go into the big league. The Industrial Development Corporation’s mandate is, in effect, the same.
Its model is almost exactly that which gave us Sanlam, Volkskas, Naspers and other great examples of what a little help from the state can do for people with big ideas but little capital. There’s a full economic history of networks of access and influence across our land.
Discovery, another great South African company, is one big network, so why I wonder do people get so hot under the collar because Dhlomo networked with the NEF chairperson? Why was Philisiwe Mthethwa pushed into a corner to declare that they are not even coffee buddies? The best deals happen over coffee. And golf.
After the whole matter, I’ve come to the realisation that South Africa is, across the board, uncomfortable with big black success.
And of course there’s the transparent opportunism of Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, who weighed into the debate saying he will investigate.
I felt like calling into one of the stations and saying: “Come on, Minister, you are a communist. You were never going to be comfortable with a state-funded high-end luxury store.” The minister is starving the NEF of funding, not because of black or white issues, but red ones.
The thing about race cards is that even Dhlomo was playing one. She started out saying she had to ask for the NEF loan because commercial banks would not fund her as she is a black woman. But by the time the Mail & Guardian got to her, she couldn’t say which bank had turned her down.
Why not say, “I applied for a soft loan because it’s cheaper and I’m trying to build an empire”?
We and our race cards will one day come tumbling down like a cheap display by a second-rate illusionist at a fairground.
– Ferial Haffajee is editor of City Press.
– City Press