BEE policies ‘may be exacerbating inequality in SA’

Two prominent government leaders, former SA Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni and former president FW de Klerk, have both questioned black economic empowerment (BEE) policies that appear to have marginalised white people.

The former president said at the Cape Town Press Club that BEE policies had failed to address inequality “and might even have aggravated it” and proposed that affirmative action should be based not on race but on relative disadvantage. This would constitute a non-racial test.

FW de Klerk . Picture: Brenton Geach. Credit: INLSA

Speaking in a debate on healing the wounds of the past at the apartheid museum in Johannesburg, Mboweni said that the Employment Equity Act was not meant to marginalise white people.

“Now most of the black managers appointed to positions in companies or the public sector see it as their responsibility to exclude white applicants for jobs… that is not what (the policies) were intended it to be … If you continue on that path, South Africa, your dream won’t only be deferred… it will be destroyed,” Eyewitness News reported.

De Klerk, who delivered the annual Barry Streek Memorial Lecture, said: “When black, coloured or Indian candidates from the privileged education and income group are advanced over white candidates from a less privileged education and income group, the result does not promote the achievement of equality.

“It is simply unfair racial discrimination and points to the injustice and irrationality of using race as the determinant of advantage and disadvantage.” Affirmative action benefited the top 15 percent of rich South Africans.

The BEE programme prescribed the future prospects of South Africans on the basis of their race and gender “and not on individual merit”.

On that basis the correctional services department was “doggedly refusing to promote coloureds in the Western Cape because they exceed their national demographic quota of 8.8 percent”. Absurdly, they were told that if they were to be promoted they would have to move to other parts of the country “where they are under-represented”.

BEE deals should place emphasis on share schemes for employees “rather than enriching people with political connections”, said De Klerk.

DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said that while she was concerned about the “get rich quickly mentality” among some BEE tenderers, the emergence of fronting, the rise of tenderpreneurs – or friends of politicians who get state contracts – there had to be a race component to the system of redress for apartheid.

A person’s socio-economic circumstances in South Africa were “overwhelmingly linked” to that person’s race, she said. Her trade and industry spokesman Wilmot James said that while race was “a good proxy”, the codes of good practice had a sell-by date of 2017 “and we don’t support a blank cheque for eternity”.