In his autobiography, A Testament of Hope, Dr. Sam Motsuenyane tells the story of how Afrikan Bank was started. As Afrikan businessmen in apartheid South Afrika, getting finance to start and/or grow their businesses was like climbing an insurmountable mountain. Established banks insisted on collateral in the form of immovable property being put up as a condition for granting loans. But at the time, Afrikans were not allowed by law to own any property. It was in trying to find their way over, through or around that mountain that the idea of establishing an Afrikan owned bank was conceived.
To get things started, a banking license had to be obtained. The apartheid government looked favourably upon their application but there were conditions. One such condition was that a ‘seed fund’ of R1 Million had to be put down. That was no chicken feed those days (as it’d be these days. As a matter of fact, nobody is even talking millions these days!). And so strategies to raise the money had to be thought of. The legendary Dr. Richard Maponya suggested in one meeting that the money be raised from the Afrikan community itself. There were five million Afrikans at the time in the country, and so if each house contributed R1, there’d be more than that which was required.
But the response from the community was cold. The idea to start and establish an Afrikan-owned financial institution was scoffed at. ‘What good thing can come out of the Afrikan community?’ the people would ask. Apartheid, it seemed, had succeeded in convincing some of our people that they were inferior. This got encapsulated in expressions such as sethlari sa mona ke legoa meaning the Afrikan can never accomplish anything on his own, apart from the white man. And many among us were raised with whites as their role models. They’d never support anything that didn’t have a white seal of approval.
But through sheer grit, determination and resiliency, Dr. Motsuenyane and his comrades managed to raise the required money and were granted the license. Amid much fanfare, Afrikan Bank was launched with a sprawling HQ in Soshanguve outside Pretoria.
But because of unscrupulous business practices by successive CEOs, the bank went under and was placed under curatorship. This was seen as yet one other Afrikan failure and many of our people were left in the lurch and outside the country’s financial system. The bank was eventually rescued and its new owners turned it into a credit bank offering unsecured loans.
This was a clear departure from the original vision the founding fathers had for the bank. Dr. Motsuenyane laments this fact and expresses hope that the bank will one day find buyers who would restore it to its original vision. After the unsecured lending bubble had burst, the bank finds itself under curatorship again. Our people say that akukho nto imbi kwaphela meaning there’s an element of good in every bad. The lemons life sometimes throws at us can be converted into lemonade.
I believe this presents us with an opportunity as the Afrikan community to regain ownership of the bank. It is a myth that Afrikans do not have money. The truth is that we do! Just look at shopping malls going up in virtually all the townships around the country, anchored by the big supermarket chains may I add. The problem is how and on what we spend. And so if we can cut back on our spend on clothes, ubumnandi and a whole lot of other things which do not have lasting value; channel that money into a ‘Save Afrikan Bank Fund’. We then partner with government funding agencies and pull the bank out of curatorship and then restore it to its original reason for being. This then leaves one question: are we as the Afrikan community up for the challenge?
Smart M. Maqubela