OVER the centuries, South Africa has been drawn into a number of pivotal moments, when it has stood at a crossroads – from where it faced a choice between safe, and arguably stagnant, options of “more of the same” or of different policies and attitudes capable of ushering in a radically different order.
Most times, the events that occurred and the choices that were made proved catastrophic for us as a country, and the vast majority of our people. However, there was at least one occasion when a collective choice ushered in a promise of growth and prosperity – a new beginning.
Some of these moments are well documented: the arrival of the first white settlers in 1652; the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910; the 1913 Natives Land Act; the coming into power of the apartheid National Party in 1948; and the birth of a new, democratic order in 1994.
Others, though less known, have been important nevertheless.
One of these proved to be a key moment for South Africa, for business and workers, and for the political relationship between English- and Afrikaans-speaking white people.
It occurred in 1963, when a prominent leader of the country’s predominant English-speaking business world, Harry Oppenheimer, made an incredible gesture to the Afrikaner business bloc: he virtually gave an Anglo American company, General Mining Corporation (later to become Gencor and later still, part of BHP Billiton) to the Afrikaner conglomerate Sanlam.
There was, of course, method in Oppenheimer’s apparent “madness”. What he did created the opening for an alliance between English and Afrikaans business. But more than that, it offered English-language business the opportunity to continue benefiting (especially in the labour field) in all the opportunities that apartheid offered to whites.
Today we are still repairing the damage that this alliance caused.
In 1994, the ANC, the first government of a newly democratic South Africa, began the difficult task of dismantling apartheid state machinery. One of the things our democratic government has always been acutely aware of, but which it has nevertheless been constantly reminded of, is that political freedom means little or nothing if it is not also accompanied by economic freedom. The Department of Trade and Industry is committed to working energetically to help South Africans track the path of true economic freedom.
We will do this by overseeing the implementation of broad-based black economic empowerment (BEE), among other key interventions. The reorientation of the BEE framework is geared towards addressing empowerment in the productive sectors of the economy. Never shall we continue supporting consumption-driven sectors, and we are acutely aware it won’t be easy.
Perhaps we’ll need a wheelbarrow too.
In his State of the Nation address in June, President Jacob Zuma prioritised support to small businesses, as well as to township and informal sector businesses. “We will sharpen the implementation of the amended Broad-based BEE Act and the Employment Equity Act – to transform the ownership, management and control of the economy.”
The government promises radical economic change to get more black businesses involved in the transformation of our society, and to get more of our people, especially our youth, working.
Let me be clear: there will be economic transformation, and broad-based BEE will be the vehicle used to drive that transformation. Black people, moreover, will participate in the mainstream of our economy.
I do not want to be disparaging, but our economy needs more than survivalist activities, such as the selling boiled eggs at taxi ranks, to grow and to thrive.
Over the next five years, a host of working opportunities will become available to South Africans. For example, a new generation of black entrepreneurs will drive the reindustrialisation of our economy and remember these terms: “local procurement” and “increased domestic production”.
These activities will be at the heart of efforts to transform our economy, and will be buoyed by a government undertaking to buy 75 percent of goods and services from South African producers.
We will continue to improve the way we implement our Industrial Policy Action Plan (Ipap) and our Mineral Beneficiation Action Plan. Furthermore, we will develop effective ways to support black industrialists and youth entrepreneurs by especially ensuring that they are set up in ways that will make them profitable.
There is a need for policy coherence on all interventions relating to procurement, beneficiation, localisation and infrastructure.
In line with the National Development Plan, the New Growth Path, Ipap and the National Skills Development Strategy, the amended BEE codes seek to create a pool of black industrialists in the areas of enterprise and supplier development.
Let’s be clear about this: we believe we’re good enough to compete in the global arena.
The codes offer real empowerment opportunities for black people by ensuring that black-owned businesses are properly recognised, and by that I mean in South Africa and across the globe.
Another important amendment requires the state to buy local, or to buy products with a minimum level of local content, for the needs of certain, clearly identified sectors. This amendment has been strengthened by the government’s procurement accord, which is a joint commitment by the government, business, labour and civil society to increase local procurement to create jobs.
However, there are still glaring gaps, in particular lack of movement to reform the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act as it does not in its current form assist our transformation ideals.
We recognise that we need the private sector to work with us towards realising the goals of the National Development Plan. We will therefore support public-private partnerships frameworks, as outlined in the National Economic Development and Labour Council framework.
Equally, our development financial institutions will play an important role in providing access to funds for black industrialists to support our collective effort to transform our economy to deliver growth and jobs.
We are mindful that key to a “revolution” in black industrialisation are skills such as technical know-how, technology, capital, and other means of production.
But also important is the building up of strong economic relations with the African countries, and a continuation of our good relationship with traditional trade partners in the West and in other emerging markets.
What we intend to do will not happen overnight but it is important that we start now and this is what we are doing.
Mzwandile Masina is the Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry.