Max MatavireBy Max Matavire|September 15, 2021|13 Minutes|In Billionaire Tomorrow

Billionaire Tomorrow

The wrath of the warrior entrepreneur.

Mkuhuseli “Khusta” Jack won his spurs in the South African freedom struggle leading to years behind bars; he lost money in a flop on his way to life as an entrepreneur where the fight for  justice goes on.

It was a poor and miserable start in life. Mkhuseli ”Khusta” Jack was born asthmatic and couldn’t start school until he was 10. By the time he was six, he had seen the cruel and unexpected eviction of his family. All of this, did not deter a determined man from striving for a better and prosperous future.

It all began by the waters of an African river in South Africa. Jack was born, in 1957, on the banks of the Gamtoos River in Humansdorp in the Eastern Cape. His friends and family called him Khusta, the seventh born in a family of eight, was shocked one day as the twilight descended over the water of the river. His mother, the sole bread winner, came home to tell the family they had to leave as farmer Koos van der Walt nolonger wanted them on his farm.

The reason for eviction was because one of his elder brothers who was herding the farmer owner’s cattle, had left them to stray and graze on a neighbouring farm.

It may have happened more than half a century ago, but it left a huge mark on his life. In an interview with Billionaire Tomorrow, at his offices in Newton Park, Gqeberha, which operates as both his business and political premises, Khusta says the eviction ”was the turning point in my life as it turned it upside down.”

The eviction split his family; siblings had to go and live with different relatives and the family livestock was also left with relatives for safe keeping. It also disrupted his schooling as he, from early age liked education so much. With their meagre personal belongings loaded in an ox-drawn cart, his family set on a four-kilometre journey to live with his uncle on another farm.

It seemed chaos haunted the life of Khusta. A mistranslation during the recording of his birthday by officials resulted in Khusta having two different birthdays.

Recounting this incident in his book -”To Survive and Succeed; From farm boy to Businessman”, he writes: ”State and church did not agree on the moment I was spluttered into existence. Officially my date of birth is recorded as May 31, 1957 and yet my Christian baptism certificate claims that I was born a day earlier. My mother blames the mix-up on mistranslation.” For whatever reason, his birthday was finally settled on State records -May 31, 1957.

''I knew everything was going to be a disaster,'' he said adding that ''look what is happening to the party now. Greed and patronage are killing that party.''


During the interview, the diminutive, former firebrand political activist who talks non-stop, reveals he was born out of wedlock and has to date not met his father and seems not bothered about it. ”Having been brought up in a home with loving uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, and an army of cousins, meant I never had to think about there being a person missing in my life,” he says as he moves closer to a huge electric heater in his office on a chilly Gqeberha morning.

Asked why a man who fought against colonialism with all his might but has an English surname and also despite both his parents being black, Khusta chuckles and retorts: ”Its origins are not known, but I presume it was coined by white officials who could not be bothered with surnames they could not pronounce nor spell”.

In Mondplaas, near Oyster Bay, where he was now living with his uncle Uodenks, after the eviction, the nearest school was 16 kilometres away. Being an asthmatic child, this was tough for Khusta but as one who loved education and who had told himself that its only education that could extricate him from poverty, he soldiered on.

Mondays to Fridays, he walked the 16 kilometres to and from Humansdorp to Jeffreys Bay for his higher primary education. Some of his siblings dropped out of school.

 

”For my brothers and sisters of school going age, trudging 16 kilometres everyday to school became too much for them. Besides, in our small community schooling was not viewed as progress but rather as a form of Christian indoctrination. The church and school were seen as two sides of the same coin -both brainwashing tools with the aim of undermining black customs and the traditional African way of life,” he says.

In 1975, after completing higher primary education, he moved to then Port Elizabeth for secondary school. However, he got a school place in the north of South Africa but his superstitious uncle denied him going there saying there were witches there so he would die there. Khusta, now 16, finally settled for Cowan High School in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth.  Another problem arose because he did not have an ID, called a pass and so he could not be enrolled at Cowan High School.

New Brighton was then a hotbed of political activism. Black school principals had set up satellite schools for learners like Khusta who did not have passes. Black school teachers atregistered schools like Cowan High, would find time and volunteer to go and teach at the satellite schools.

In 1976, Khusta was in Standard 8 in the year of the Soweto Uprising in Johannesburg. The whole country was now a political hotbed as black people demanded their rightful place in society.

”I was now noticing all what was happening around me politically. Black townships were now full of politics. Walking around one would see protest only. Political meetings were held in churches and community halls. I was still young and so I would assist with the preparation of the halls where the meetings would be held -arranging chairs and other things to prepare for the main speakers. I would sit in the meetings which were held almost daily and listen attentively to political speeches,” said Khusta.

He says all over the black townships one would see crudely written graffiti on beerhall walls calling for the freeing of Nelson Mandela. All these firmly planted the activism bug into young Khusta. He was slowly immersed in the politics of protest and as time went on, he was leading consumer boycotts leading to numerous arrests, detentions and torture by the apartheid regime.

 

‘I was phased into politics and gradually built the resolve I had and then I started to have a conviction and realise that there was a price to pay for my views. With others, I prepared myself for whatever came my way. No amount of pain could stop a man with a conviction to achieve what they aim for. All types of torture were inflicted on my body by apartheid forces. I knew by taking the route I had, I had placed myself in harm’s way,” he says.

During the 1980s, Khusta was in and out of detention and was finally held from 1986 to 1989 during the State of Emergency. He got married in 1990 to Karen and they have two children. During that year, he decided to further his studies and went to England where he studied economics and development studies at the University of Sussex, graduating with honours.

 

After university, he went into the private sector and says his first business venture, a brick manufacturing project, was a flop.

”I faced bankruptcy and was liquidated -it was a rude awakening. The business world is harsh. Since then, I have attempted business ventures in many different sectors. The principle of diversification is to survive,” says Khusta, as he switches off his phone which had been ringing incessantly.

 

He is a firm believer in Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) and admits he benefitted from a number of its deals.

 

”I support it because its objectives were honourable and was aimed at correcting South Africa’s social economic order. However, as soon as it was taken over by the ANC, things went awry. It retrogressed and became a mockery. It is no longer aiming at making genuine black entrepreneurs, but enriching a few cronies -patronage. Government has not mustered the art of assisting small businesses. They have no monitoring systems,” he says

 

He mentions the ABSA bank empowerment deal as one of those he benefitted from. Khusta now also sits on the boards of various companies and is running a successful communications construction business which involves laying internet fibre network.

 

Asked why he left the ANC, he says when the party elected former president Jacob Zuma that was when he decided to leave. ”I knew everything was going to be a disaster,” he said adding that ”look what is happening to the party now. Greed and patronage are killing that party”.

 

He does not want to hear anything about the ANC. Early this year he launched his own movement called Abantu Integrity Movement (AIM) and he calls himself the Chief Volunteer. He maintains its not a political party, but a residence-driven organisation aimed at bringing stability to the Nelson Mandela Bay metro in Gqeberha. Its aim is to put an end to corruption and maladministration currently plaguing the metro named after a man whose values everyone wants to emulate.

 

Now, Khusta spends most of his time campaigning as his AIM will be contesting only the Nelson Mandela Bay metro local government elections. Weekends he relaxes at his coastal holiday home at Cape St Francis and posts photographs on Facebook walking his four dogs on the sandy beaches and walking the trails; a far cry from his days of activism a lifetime ago in the townships not too far away.