One cannot separate the business from the man. Though many would argue the separation of business and pleasure ought to also apply to the divorce of the Political from the business.
The BrownSense Group is such a group injecting the political back into business. Its Facebook page describes the group as being “about promoting, rating and supporting Black owned businesses. The intention is to also break the “stereotype” that Black service providers provide below par service. We break this stereotype by demanding excellence of ourselves and of others.“
Its direct engagement with the public is through their markets with their latest having happened at the Ellis art studios situated on the border of downtown Johannesburg. Though their produce is not necessary political in nature, its the intention in the creation of the markets that we find politics at work.
Mzuzukile Soni is the creator of BrownSense Facebook page and one of its administrators. He does not see himself as being an activist. He is a “24/7 father” of two spritely children and has a background in law. It was in 2006 that he moved into the corporate sector.
His passion for art and poetry would not be the route of his career but he would still find himself gravitating towards those in the creative field.
He describes himself as being “non-partisan but all about black ideas, particularly the views on what makes me a black man”, with his current personal pursuits being an examination on how it is we define black masculinity.
With his mind-set having always been inclined towards black consciousness, watching Spike Lee’s Malcolm X would ignite this particular spark. Mzuzukile describes himself as being “honest and straightforward”. He describes our current political state as being one of a bombardment of racist activities, encompassed in the Penny Sparrow debacle that would see a local estate agent referring to black people as monkeys. He’s also no stranger to direct racism and has been called a Kaffir on one such occasion.
It is from such experiences that he felt the need to do something. For him such action would need to go beyond the digital social activism and the creation of a Hashtag. He argues, “One of the best ways is to redirect our spending”. We need to adapt our activities, do what you normally do but it’s all about directing our intention as consumers”. He explains how we tend to criticise black people for being the consumers and not the producers. “Let’s rather take the consumption and place it back into our own. Let’s create a platform where we can make such intentions feasible and not just a Hashtag.”
The BrownSense Capital Facebook group would be initiated as a means in which black entrepreneurs could get in touch with each other, advertise their products and get in touch with other business owners. The site would also get shop owners connected with the BrownSense Black capital markets allowing them a space to sell their products with other like-minded people.
The latest market at Ellis art studios happened in June. It was through a friend of Mzuzukile that the venue would be provided. The previous BrownSense event happened in March and was hosted at the Kuhlcher Café in Maboneng. The performers and artists for the event would be paid in the form of Mzuzukile’s legal advice. The venue itself would benefit from the events patrons buying their food and drinks for the evening at the establishment.
“I believe in the law if exchange. You don’t have to rely on money to get things done but the artists work is still being paid in the form of services.” He does not believe in artists providing their services for free so as to get “exposure”. He sees such logic as being the result of the artists being fooled into thinking they are a part of something big in order to get their labour for free.
In creating such a space for black entrepreneurs during weekend markets he also sees the “inconveniences” of buying local. He sees the cost that goes to buying products made local as a major set back to the consumer and is also trying to address this by working directly with the business owners when organizing the markets. “Because we have a goal then lets work with the goal in dealing with this set back”. The cost is being engaged with by working with the suppliers and businesses so that they can also compete with the markets by lowering their prices. The market space becomes one where the seller is given the opportunity to grow their business skills with BrownSense and not just another space for profit.
Yet he also realizes a need for educating the consumer. They may want a bargain but they also needs to realize that such can come at a major cost. The cost goes to local economies and business that loose opportunities to overseas contracts that proved cheaper production costs and resources. He acknowledges that there is an entrepreneurial aspect to his work but there is also a “movement”. How we spend should not be about the bargain. He is about trying to change the mind-set of people over what is also important when it comes to being a consumer.
For him our current capitalism is not sustainable. He want to see the system develop to the point where we move beyond the “I want to take everything off the table for myself” For Mzuzukile it’s about redistribution. “We need to move beyond the ‘taking of more than you need Capitalism’ that for is greatly informed by fear.”
“We need to redefine how we want to do capitalism.”
In answer the question on the role he sees for young black entrepreneurs in South Africa today, he begins his response with “what would I have said to my younger self?”
“Try and live in the moment. Don’t be in a rush to be the better with age. Live with every breath and learn from all you meet”. He discusses how there is always something to learn and we must internalize those valuable lessons.
“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. We are used to getting hidings in school that is why we are afraid. We must consciously learn from those mistakes and know that there is a lesson to be learnt with them.”
“We see the older as blocking us but there is something to be learnt from these older people”. For him the older generations are the one’s with so much knowledge and with their passing will mean the loss of valuable knowledge. “You must learn from everyone…every generation does the same thing”.
This is why for him getting oneself a mentor is so important. It is a means in which to gain access to the experience of others. Yet for him a mentor does not even have to be some one well passed your age. They can also be a peer that you see as also having the knowledge and talent. They are the one’s whose wisdom you can learn from to help grow your skills as a budding entrepreneur.
The next BrownSense market is on the 31st of July in
Midrand. Follow the link to join the Facebook event and to receive reminders and updates on the event.
For information on BrownSense group, would like to get involved or if you are looking to set up a stall at their markets please contact Mzuzukile on firstname.lastname@example.org.