Hong Kong protesters must accept city is part of China

By Raquel Carvalho

Leaders should find a vision for Hong Kong and bring the youth into the prosperity path, says South African businessman and former political activist.

Saki Macozoma, 58, South African businessman and former political activist, saw with his own eyes protests, riots and police abuse. From his time as a student leader, he learned what it is like to be under constant police surveillance and also how it is to be confined to a prison cell.

The 1976 school protests against apartheid in South Africa led to Macozoma’s imprisonment. He was arrested following a major outbreak of violence in Port Elizabeth, his birthplace. Along with 32 other students, Macozoma was found guilty of terrorism for planning a march in the city centre, which the government said would damage society. He spent five years on Robben Island, the same prison where Nelson Mandela was confined.

Today, Macozoma is one of the most prominent South African businessmen with an extensive portfolio ranging from banking to mining and other ­investments.

He was in Hong Kong for 10 days as president of Business Leadership South Africa, an association that gathers the country’s major business leaders. He was invited by the Hong Kong government to get to know the region.

And unlike what many might think, the political situation in Hong Kong and recent protests – some led by students – didn’t scare a businessman like ­Macozoma.

“I don’t think that the political system in Hong Kong is such a concern. The world is a quite difficult place out there … I tell investors in South Africa: students must protest and any society that doesn’t have students protesting, something is wrong,” he said.

“I don’t think that student protests in Hong Kong are something that turns me off. What would turn me off is how they are dealt with, and I don’t have reasons to believe that the response has been overly repressive,” he noted.

“The issues that students are protesting about are very valid issues but they are also very difficult issues to resolve,” Macozoma said.

Major civil disobedience movement Occupy Central, which began in September 2014, followed a week of class boycott and the detention of several students. During the protests that mobilised thousands of people over more than two months, police used tear gas and pepper spray to suppress protesters who were pushing for universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

South Africa has seen in recent months a student’s revolt that started to be against university fees, but it has grown into other issues. “What I see in Hong Kong is not very different from what I see in South Africa. Obviously the situation of Hong Kong is a kind of a special case, as the relationship between Hong Kong and [mainland] China is an interesting case of decolonization,” he noted.

In his opinion, “people have to accept they are part of China. The question is what kind part of China do they want to be.”

Although many might think that the real issue is “localism” versus Beijing loyalism, Macozoma observed “that’s a manifestation of other deeper problems.” He said that Hong Kong should reintegrate young people into the prosperity path. “What it really needs to be resolved is how everyone becomes a winner,” former political activist said.

“I think pro-democracy people will continue to agitate for that and they should do it – it keeps things in balance. But I think there are choices in life that have to be made,” Macozoma said, establishing a parallel with South Africa. “We were facing a choice: should we be concerned about all the crimes that were committed under apartheid… Or should we be saying: Where we are, we have these grievances. However, to take the country forward we have to make these compromises. This is where the genius of Nelson Mandela is and quite often people don’t get it,” he noted.

In this is a period of transition, “all the leaders need to find a way to which I would call the ‘Hong Kong first’,” he said. “That ‘Hong Kong first’ has to be predicated on the fact that they must accept that this is a decolonization context and that now Hong Kong is part of China…What Hong Kong has to do is to find its niche within China and defend its freedoms in that context,” he noted.