Magazine article New African

South Africa: Pan-Africanism at Its Best

Magazine article New African

South Africa: Pan-Africanism at Its Best

Article excerpt

"I am a pan-Africanist through and through. Everywhere in Africa is my home. Every African is my brother. I am from the West, married East, and live in the South." Joseph Eshun, originally from Ghana but now a big-time businessman in South Africa, shows what African solidarity can achieve. Pusch Commey interviewed him in Johannesburg.

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What is striking about Joseph Eshun, a Ghanaian national, is his simplicity. Whether munching on his chicken at an inner-city Kentucky fried outlet or chatting with his 200-odd staff in Johannesburg, South Africa, it is difficult to see that he commands an asset base of 400 million rands.

"I have no money of my own" he explains. "All is invested in my companies, the Psimmeco Group. Property is my business, and I want to reach a target of one billion rands before I begin to draw a salary."

That was indeed apparent, seeing that he had to scratch around to find a five-rand coin for the parking attendant. But how did he end up in South Africa and the property business?

"It was an accident," he says. An electrical engineer by profession, Eshun travelled from Accra, Ghana, all the way to Zimbabwe in 1992 to look for a visa to Japan in order to take up an appointment with Toshiba. He had been refused one in his home country.

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His plans changed when he got to Zimbabwe. He travelled to Zambia, where he set up a credit guarantee company. He later closed down and decided to try his luck in Namibia, where all his possessions were stolen by his fellow travellers whom he had funded, 13 of them.

With nothing left but a bus ticket, he decided to go back to Zimbabwe through South Africa. On his way, he saw an advertisement in the newspapers for an investment officer with Investec bank in Johannesburg. Investec was heavily involved in the property market. That is where he cut his teeth. The rest is history. Among other businesses he has set up in South Africa, his 23-storey hotel, The Queens Gardens, is well appointed, situated in Berea, a cosmopolitan inner-city hub that finds every nationality on the continent. Together with its adjoining areas--Hillbrow and Yeoville--they are the first port of call for African immigrants seeking their fortunes in Egoli, "the City of Gold" as Johannesburg is popularly known.

The grand hotel was the headquarters of the giant Protea Group of hotels which joined the exodus of white capital from the inner cities to the northern suburbs soon after Nelson Mandela came to power in 1994. There were complaints about crime, grime, rent boycotts, and hijacking of buildings by organised thugs. Not to mention the flight of European tourists and those with the money to live in hotels who happened to be white.

"So what?", asks Joseph Eshun. "To every problem, there is a solution. If we Africans don't find solutions to Africa's problems, nobody will."

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Then, there is the little bit about who is behind every successful man. With his Kenyan wife Grace in the driving seat, Eshun set up companies and took charge of the problems, tackling the criminal elements and the vandals head on. He did it so well on behalf of his friends--Jewish and German property owners--that they provided him with the seed capital to enter the market.

Since then the properties he bought in the late 1990s have appreciated by as much as 1,000%. …

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