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We Are The Ones We Need




WE ARE THE ONE WE NEED

The war on black professionals in Corporate South Africa


SIHLE BOLANI


XARRA BOOKS


ISBN 9780620810869

 

Every black professional who has ever been made to feel invisible in the workplace will leaf through this book and find that it resonates.

Page after page teems with the lived experiences of many dejected professionals of the darker hue that it is almost like looking into the mirror as you thumb through Chapter by frustrating Chapter trying to decipher the nature of the beast called Corporate South Africa and your place in it.

The author says, naively, that “I worked my way through primary school believing the playing field is equal and that the only determining factors for success were hard work, diligence and passion”.

Don’t we all?

But soon enough she comes down with a thud as reality hits: “When I got to high school, I started seeing that the colour of [my] skin did influence how I was treated.”

This is no dunce but a precocious kid who, “when I was in grade 11 and 12, I was an Intern at Celebrity Services Africa (CSA), a PR and Events management company”.  

She enters the real world of public relations in her work life and realises, in her New Writing, she has to be better than her white peers, excellent-er.

“After I started working, disillusionment set in, hard and heavy. This world that I was now living was nothing like the world I was promised from 1994. I realised that no matter how smart nor how hard I work, irrespective of how exceptional I can be, in a room I will just always be a black woman.”

She has the brains, as even her mother Phumla vouched for her at the initial launch of the book at a glitzy Johannesburg venue.

But the common thread that ran through the comments of both her panelists and the audience was that black professionals were “invaders” who intruded into white space in Corporate SA.

Whites feel that their black counterparts have not fully earned the stripes to jostle with them shoulder to shoulder for space in the boardroom.

Disgruntled black professionals who have taken flak from their white contemporaries are cognisant of the fight that lies ahead in their quest to occupy space on the office floor, the corner office or the boards.

Those whites who have arrogated to themselves the role of deciding on the quality and quota of the blacks to admit to the inner sanctum of Corporate SA will not give up their struggle to keep the status quo without a fight.

What do blacks do?

They choose to suffer peacefully. They stick to their side of the fence. All this just so they can keep the luxury company car, the house in the golf estate and the children at the private school.

The author, a relatively new entrant to the concrete jungle called work, makes this observation: I realised that as black people, we are conditioned to be “on our best behaviour” so that we don’t rock the boat and screw up opportunities for others like us.

But she was not going to take the abuse lying down, as those who came before her did.

“What I learned during my first year of working was that I absolutely, positively did not have the ability to “schmooze” my way to the top. And it wasn’t a skill I was interested in learning either. Call me naïve, but I actually believed that my work and professionalism should speak for itself, and that merit is what dissolves the risk of blurred lines.”

She ruffles feathers; she asks difficult questions; she takes on the establishment - and for her trouble she is ostracised, and, to borrow from Hollywood, [she is] marked for death.

Reading the book will either bring back your own stress at the memories you’d rather stayed buried in your past with your ex employer or it will fire you up to take the war to the enemy.

A toxic work environment can make you sick. The author has had her fair dose of chest pains, thanks to her job at this particular bank.

The fault lines are clear, in black and white. The line has been drawn in the sand. Black professionals have no right to claim their place in the sun, according to the blue eyes boys and prima donnas of Corporate SA.

In Amanda, Sihle’s nemesis, you will see a lot of that monster who made your work life hell.

“By the time I quit my job the end of 2007, my manager and I couldn’t bear dealing with each other,” she writes.

The beauty about this book is that it is not a marathon lament. She offers solutions.

Better her than me, I hear you murmur.

Well, she took one for the team.

Your only task is to ensure the cycle of office bullying stops right here; right now.

 

 
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