The Morality of Business

By Versi, Anver | African Business, July-August 1996 | Go to article overview

The Morality of Business


Versi, Anver, African Business


In this issue, we publish an inspiring story on how a South African hotel chain, not wishing to create "an island of opulence in a sea of poverty," involved the impoverished local community in the construction and running of a new game lodge.

The outcome of this socio-economic experiment has been both startling and spectacular. The local community, made up largely of down at heel cattle herders and struggling farmers, seized the half chance they were offered with both hands. They were provided with an opportunity to learn new skills: Carpentry, brick-laying, hydroponics (growing vegetables in water), plumbing and so on. They learnt amazingly quickly.

The new buzz of economic activity that was thus created awoke nascent entrepreneurial talent. One man quickly graduated from selling everyday items from the boot of his ramshackle car into a shopkeeper; another taught himself brick-making and is now busy supplying metropolitan areas; and farmers producing horticultural products using hydroponics, are now selling their products to supermarkets in distant cities.

The once impoverished area is now a thriving, humming little village. Tourists are welcomed with more than common courtesy. The game lodge, unlike many others throughout Africa, is not regarded as an alien, forbidden and forbidding structure; it is the proud centrepiece of the village. It was made by the villagers and it thus "belongs" to them. It has changed their lives for the better.

Conservationists and environmentalists will have very little to do in this area; the local people, you can bet your last dollar, will protect the flora and fauna with their lives if necessary.

This type of community-based approach to tourism development, which we are pleased to note is spreading in Southern Africa, has done more for conservation than all the expensive educational campaigns that have been mounted throughout the continent, often by foreign based animal protection societies. It works because local people are fully involved in the project, not excluded; it works because there is no conflict between the rights of animals and humans; it works because the fruits of the enterprise go to the local people, not smartly suited strangers. It works because the relationship between capital and labour is right, just and moral.

Morality is a word that is not particularly popular among business circles, especially the giant multinationals. They prefer to hear "demand and supply", "competitive advantage", "unit labour costs" and other such terms which attempt to divorce production from the realm of human value systems.

Regaining human values

But "morality" is a word that is assuming greater significance with each passing day in the economic activities of African countries. Already, the morality of economic relations has become the banner under which the new political generals are marshalling their troops in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Kenya. …

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