A Tribute to Dr Sam Motsuenyane

By Dr Reuel J. Khoza (Chairman of Nedbank Group Limited, Aka Capital  and author of several books including Let Africa Lead and Attuned Leadership) to “Nedbank Group Technology Leaders”  I  1 February 2017


If we accept, as indeed we must, that Apartheid was in a real sense a monstrous double-headed hydra:  on the one hand, politics of dispossession, disenfranchisement, discrimination, oppression and suppression; and on the other, economics of black impoverishment and exploitation, we have to acknowledge that to slay a monster a two-pronged approach was absolutely essential.

Simultaneous with the political wars of liberation waged from the 1960s to the advent of our democracy, an economic war of emancipation was waged on various fronts. Foremost among leaders of the latter struggle was one Dr Sam Motsuenyane. Together with such pioneering peers as Richard Maponya, P G Gumede, A N Gade, Archie Mkonyeni, Roger Sishi, Max Tlakula, Rev Joe Hlongwane and many others, through N Afcoc, Dr Motsoenyane provided the leadership thrust that gave apartheid no rest. The economic sanctions that later helped bring Apartheid to its staggering end were given impetus and imprimatur by NAFCOC under the visionary leader of Dr Sam.

Defining an Era in South Africa’s Economic Life

We can say, without any fear of contradiction that Sam Motsuenyane leadership life defined an era in South African economic history. Practical manifestations of that epoch include such valiant efforts as Black Chain, African Bank and later Thebe, Nail, Rail, Saflige, Capital Alliance and WIP. Valuable lessons were learnt from these initiatives by those who care to observe and learn.

Quintessential Expression of Siriti

Apart from the practical feats we could spend days regaling audiences about the life and times of Dr Motsuenyane, the nation owes him a debt of gratitude for being the quintessential expression of seriti, a concept almost impossible to translate into English. The closest one can get is gravitas/dignity. Bre re leboga boetapele bja seriti. Together with mme Motsoenyane le batho ba setho, batho ba botho, batho ba batho. For that our gratitude knows no limits.

Life As You Rise

We owe you a debt of gratitude too, for putting the injunction lift as you rise high on the national pedestal during your NAFCOC leadership / tenure.

The injunction to lift others as you yourself rise is widely understood and deeply felt in all our communities. It is an extension, of course, of the Ubuntu ethic that a person is a person because of other people, or as they say in Sesotho, Motho Ke motho ka batho babang. Success in life may be personal as a result of hard work and initiative, but we are moved to ensure that others also benefit from our achievements. The injunction was adopted by NAFCOC and is also used by successful women to encourage up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

Dr Sam Motsuenyane’s life is a bold statement proclaiming:  as a worthy business leader you cannot justify your existence by profit statements alone. You must also render service to your local, national, continental and world community.

A Legacy of Unrestricted Proportions

If we listen intently and carefully we can hear the voice of Dr Sam Motsuenyane piercing through decades, sternly admonishing todays black business leaders, exhorting us to make wise choices; saying:

  • You could choose to believe in financial alchemy – the belief that through some pseudo-economic process such as sophisticated financial engineering, you can turn blackness, in and of itself, into gold, OR you could choose to invest in the development and employment of the necessary strategic and technical capabilities, and in the intellectual capacity to understand cause and effect.
  • You could choose to be like parasitic weeds, sprouting opportunistically at any and all instances, striving for instant growth and flowering, OR you could choose to be like oak trees, independently rooted, sturdy and designed for the next millennium.
  • You could choose blindly the dictates and agendas of those whose intents are inimical to yours, OR you could choose to develop your own compelling vision and agenda, confident and courageous enough to follow your dreams no matter how long it takes, no matter what obstacles you face.
  • You could choose to invest in the development of a mirage of appearances, through fancy ownership and financing structures and courtesans who make the critical decisions behind the scenes, OR you could choose to invest in the development of the real thing, of blacks as unquestionable principals of their own ventures, through the development of your only true asset, black intellectual capital.
  • You could choose to perpetuate the stereotype of the African as a dependent, obsequious, parasitic citizen of the world, OR you could choose to create a new prototype of the African as a proud, productive and independent citizen of the world, equal to your compatriots, and commanding unconditional global respect.

What I perceive as Dr Sam’s admonition articulated above, resonates with William E Holler’s advice:

“What the future holds for us, depends on what we hold for the future. Hard working todays make high-winning tomorrows.” 

Dr Motsoenyane, you bequeath, to South Africa a legacy of unrestricted proportions. Of you Confucious would say, “There are three marks of the superior man:  being virtuous, he is free from anxiety; being wise, he is free from perplexity; being brave, he is free from fear.”  You epitomise all three of these virtues. What’s more, you enabled us to distinguish leadership that is merely meaningful from that which is significant. Significance in this instance implies transcending what the leadership role means for the leader in question to the impact such leadership has on the followers and others.

Dr Motsuenyane: Visionary Farmer, Supreme Chamber of Commerce President, Business Leader, Economic Emancipator, Ambassador and African Humanist Par Excellence; Sagacious Wisdom Keeper, we hail and applaud you!!

Happy Birthday to You!!