To Survive and Succeed: From farm boy to businessman, Mkhuseli “Khusta” Jack’s autobiography, is a poignant reminder that with persistence, hard work and determination anything is possible.
A former political activist and now successful businessman from Port Elizabeth, Jack owns a transport business, a telecommunication company and a fishing company. He has also served on the boards of Irvin & Johnson, Boardwalk’s Emfuleni Resorts, a subsidy of Sun International, Bantu Botho and is also a director of Absa’s Batho Bonke.
In the book, Jack chronicles his life as a farm boy, a fierce activist and a businessman in vivid and detailed vignettes. He grew up on white-owned farms on the eastern banks of the Gamtoos River in the Eastern Cape yearning to go to school.
Jack quickly became involved in politics, endured ongoing encounters with apartheid-era security police and was arrested many times. His first arrest was in March 1979 for organising the Sharpeville Massacre memorial service. He was detained for six days.
He became the first president of the Port Elizabeth Youth Congress (Peyco), which was later disbanded in 1990, and helped form the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 1983.
He was on the UDF’s Eastern Cape regional executive and was the spokesperson for the Eastern Cape Consumer Boycott Committee until his detention in 1985, when he was severely assaulted and tortured.
“As time went on my experience of torture became frequent and more brutal. I realised denying us breath was one of the security police’s favourite tactics,” he wrote.
Like other political leaders in the Eastern Cape, Jack spent the last few years of the 1980s in St Albans Prison in Port Elizabeth. Then South African Council of Churches’ Reverend Frank Chikane was granted permission to bring them some staggering news.
ANC leader Nelson Mandela was holding preparatory talks with the government’s representatives on a negotiated end to apartheid. Jack and a handful of other Eastern Cape leaders were among those he wanted to consult as he navigated the ANC, which was still banned at this point, towards a groundbreaking deal with the Nationalist Party in the early 1990s which ushered in a non-racial democracy.
They met Mandela in the grounds of the prison where he had been held since December 1988 after being in hospital with tuberculosis. After a six-hour meeting with Mandela, Jack wrote that he felt he had been on the right political track all along.
After organising one of the largest rallies ever held in South Africa at which about 500 000 people turned out to welcome Mandela, after his release in 1990, in Motherwell in Port Elizabeth, Jack bowed out of the political fray.
He received a Helen Suzman scholarship to study at Sussex University in England and graduated in a BA Honours degree in Economics and Development Studies. On his return to South Africa, he landed a job in the marketing division of Volkswagen SA in Uitenhage, but he was dreaming of being his own boss.
In 1996, he left VWSA and took a step towards becoming an independent entrepreneur. He was counting on the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) to lend him R17 million to build a factory to manufacture disposable nappies.
His business was doing fine until he received a fax from a Johannesburg patent and copyright law firm accusing him of infringing their client’s patent. He was ordered to stop selling the nappies. He could not not pay staff ’s salaries, suppliers or rent. The IDC loan, which had been approved, was withdrawn and it seemed to be game over for him.
“I was just beginning to pick up the confidence that comes with business rhythm. I cut my losses, picked myself up and got through that period by pulling in as much consulting work as possible. I managed to survive,” Jack wrote.
He went into a telecommunications company that helped establish digital enhancement cordless technology in rural areas. He also worked on joint ventures with established companies, building office blocks and low-cost housing.
Then came his inclusion in huge empowerment deals, such as Batho Bonke led by Tokyo Sexwale, Ubuntu Botho led by Patrice Motsepe and smaller deals in the engineering, gambling and transport sectors. He had more than beaten the odds.
To Survive and Succeed: From farm boy to businessman
Author: Mkhuseli Jack