Home Changemakers 'Talking to the chiefs is an uphill battle'

‘Talking to the chiefs is an uphill battle’

African Bank founder optimistic about land negotiations with tribal leaders


At the age of 92, Dr Sam Motsuenyane is as committed to the betterment of black lives as he was back in in 1964 when, during the height of the apartheid onslaught on the dignity of the country’s oppressed majority and with just R70 to his name, he went about his crusade to build what would later become known as a landmark institution in the empowerment of black people, African Bank.

With no property or any assets to his name, as well as obvious political impediments, his entrepreneurial spirit carried him on a ten-year odyssey to realise, together with the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NAFCOC) – which he also co-founded – his dream of a bank that catered directly to the needs of black people. The shores of success, much to the shock and horror of the state, were finally reached in 1974 and African Bank was able to open its doors to the public.

The Dr Sam Motsuenyane Rural Development Foundation
The Dr Sam Motsuenyane Rural Development Foundation

Dr Motsuenyane realised early on, as the bank was in the process of finding its feet, that if black people were to see their socioeconomic lives progress, agricultural development would need to be placed high on the bank’s agenda. He would eventually start up a committee within the bank’s executive structures given to exactly this. Throughout his time as head of this committee he would work tirelessly to see his vision of sustainable, commercial agricultural enterprises flourish and would go on to make large strides in doing so.

After his retirement in 1992, Dr Motsuenyane’s commitment to the development of young agri-preneurs remained undiluted. He has since continued to be an outspoken advocate for the industrialisation of rural areas, particularly along the vast tracts of fallow land already owned by government. Through an organisation founded in his name, the Dr Sam Motsuenyane Rural Development Foundation, he has persisted in lobbying for funding to not only to have that land distributed and but also for the training and development of talented young entrepreneurs eager to revitalise it and make their mark on the sector.

…that land will not be enough to address the socioeconomic duress poor black people live under, but it should be the starting point.

However, this has been a long, arduous process mired in red tape. To date, the organisation has seen little to no progress on behalf of the state to materialise the dreams of the organisation and the enthusiastic young people raring to help grow our economy.

This is a sore point for Dr Mostuenyane. In the wake of the land debate fuelling racial tensions in the country, it appears to him a more expedient method to cultivate existing land in the hands of government and tribal leaders than to focus exclusively on the expropriation of land from white farmers without compensation, stating, “Yes, there will be a need for expropriation. However, there are vast tracts of fallow land in the hands of government and tribal leaders which should be attended to first. Of course that land will not be enough to address the socioeconomic duress poor black people live under, but it should be the starting point.”

He acknowledges that negotiations with tribal leaders is a tricky proposition, but not one that cannot be overcome. Despite the cultural barriers that have made these talks difficult, Dr Motsuenyane is optimistic.

Wedding harvest of Mr Sehoole, a member of the Dr Sam Motsuenyane Rural Development Fund
Wedding harvest of Mr Sehoole, a member of the Dr Sam Motsuenyane Rural Development Fund

He says, “Talking to the chiefs is an uphill battle in terms of culture. We need to help develop new ways of thinking, getting people to see the agricultural sector as the basis for industrialisation of rural areas. A lot of work can be done with leadership in these areas. Incubation sessions have already been established in Winterveld (his hometown) which are geared towards motivating tribal leaders and people in rural areas in general to think differently.”

On the whole, he maintains a cautious outlook of the issue of land expropriation without compensation. He believes in the moral imperative behind the idea, but also hopes that talks with white farmers will engender an approach, which he hopes “will see a peaceful resolution and preserve a sense of unity among all South Africans”.

Faeez Van Doorsen
Faeez Van Doorsen
Faeez van Doorsen is a freelance writer and content producer with over 18 years of experience across multiple media platforms, including television, radio, print, social media and film. The only three things he loves more than writing is… writing, writing and more writing!

Must Read

Mlambo is the winner of the coveted Eat Out Nederburg Rising Star of the Year award for the year 2019.

Jozi chef is living out his wildest food dreams

“Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey ate my chakalaka!”  Umjita wa se Kasi (Kasi boy) turned gourmet chef, Katlego Sebastian Mlambo still has to pinch himself when he recalls serving former US president Barack Obama and legendary American talk show host and television producer - Oprah Winfrey an...