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The Western Cape’s “tragic” history was responsible for its having a small black middle class compared with the rest of the country, Premier Helen Zille has said.
She was speaking at a skills colloquium that the Cape Chamber of Commerce hosted at the V&A Waterfront on Thursday. The aim of the colloquium was to discuss whether the Western Cape was set up to attract and retain black skills.
“We have to face some hard facts. Black people and white people were not in the Western Cape over 300 years ago. As black people were migrating down the east coast, white people were arriving in ships down the west coast,” Zille said.
She cited border wars and colonial administrations as having been partly to blame for keeping black people out of the province.
“We also know about the coloured labour preference policy and all of the other things like influx control.
“But one of the consequences of that past is that today we have a very small black middle class… and that means, by extension, we have a very limited skills base among black people in the Western Cape, and that we need to change urgently.”
Zille referred to award-winning scenario planner Clem Sunter’s theory that while people often talked about the need to create five million jobs, they failed to understand this implied the need to create the context for one million new businesses.
She said getting through the red tape was one of the biggest challenges facing those wanting to start a business. “I am often appalled by the approach of officials to this whole matter,” she said.
The chamber’s executive director, Viola Manuel, said: “The skills debate is possibly one of the most important issues affecting the future of our country. We simply have to find solutions to our challenges.”
In response to Zille’s speech, Thabile Wonci, of the Black Management Forum, said the forum welcomed her opinion on the need to extend the black middle class, but was concerned that she was pushing “issues of quantity” as opposed to progressively empowering black people in the Western Cape.