Tell us about your favourites and win
The DA is trying to enter a political discourse about BEE without grasping the basics. So let us start from the beginning, says Lindi Zulu.
Johannesburg - One of the most interesting phenomena in South Africa today is the tendency for liberal forces to adopt progressive language in hiding their opposition to what the progressive forces wish to achieve with an array of policies targeted at the poor.
A policy that has recently been a victim of this phenomenon is that of Black Economic Empowerment.
The slip shows when parties such as the DA try to enter the political discourse that requires a thorough understanding of BEE and why in the first place it was necessary, without grasping the basics.
While we should be implementing this policy and ensuring its introduction in the political landscape achieves empowerment for our people, we find ourselves having to constantly educate people who either see BEE as a threat to their comfortable positions in the economy, or who see it as a major irritation that needs to be dealt with through a compliance mentality.
So let us start from the beginning: BEE is essentially a policy aimed at levelling the economic playing field that has been distorted by decades of apartheid economics where blacks were denied opportunities.
Such redress inevitably will touch the private sector uncomfortably and threaten long-held privileges. The distortion of the economic landscape has resulted in us being the most unequal society in the world.
This means that even by world standards, apartheid outdid itself in making sure that the economic gaps ensured that the poor got poorer while the rich became richer.
In the South African context, that simply meant that whites were catapulted to the top of the economic pile at the direct expense of blacks who were deliberately blocked from economic opportunities.
The symptoms of such exclusion from these opportunities remain with us in the form of skewed ownership of the JSE to this day.
In major companies, a tiny number of blacks hold any serious positions of authority and therefore are unable to influence economic trends.
To change this situation will take years of deliberate intervention through policies that will seek to address this inequality. BEE is one such policy that is only starting to take root now.
The official opposition has neither the answer to the analysis about this unacceptable state of affairs nor the need to implement this policy and so resorts to anecdotes about BEE being poised at producing black millionaires.
The reality of the situation is simple.
BEE is not meant as a feeding scheme for black people, but rather is meant to create opportunities for black people to play in the same league as white people in the economy.
The suggestion made repeatedly by the DA to limit the rand value of black economic participation is impractical as it is racist.
It assumes that there is something wrong with black people becoming wealthy and that wealthy black people should be kept in check not to become so wealthy as to offend white definition of what a black person should be entitled to, or able to achieve in the economy. This approach to BEE needs to be rejected outright.
BEE is not meant as a further discrimination. The tired refrain that BEE, like affirmative action, is some kind of reverse discrimination has been canvassed so long as to be redundant.
In order to reverse years of apartheid discrimination, of course there must be some kind of preference that is given to black people. This “discrimination” is inevitable if you are levelling the playing field.
It is not possible to level such a playing field by pretending that white people did not unduly benefit from apartheid and that in order to correct this, they should take a back seat when it comes to opportunities in the new society we are building.
But alas, even with this policy more white people got promoted and appointed in white corporate South Africa in the last 20 years than their black counterparts, according to the latest employment equity report of the country.
It demonstrates a defiance of the work that the country is trying to do, especially by Corporate South Africa. It demonstrates the not-so-subtle disregard of the priorities of the country to bring into the mainstream economy those who have been left out.
The DA is telling us that they would protect instead of challenge this trend should they come to power. They would buck the global trend where governments increasingly protect their citizens from foreign domination by ensuring that indigenisation policies are introduced.
In many countries, the policy is not as apologetic as BEE, but demands that locals own 51 percent of all businesses where they partner with foreigners.
It is clear that BEE will be used by the opposition DA as a “swart gevaar” tactic ahead of the next election – giving an impression, erroneously, that white people will become worse off when the ANC policies of redress are implemented.
There is total fallacy in that argument. The reality is this country will never enjoy stability when companies do not make an effort to be inclusive in the ownership, when boards are without enough black women and disabled people, when employment equity policies are ignored, when inadequate resources are spent on upskilling staff.
Our economy will remain stagnant if there is no development of new enterprises and entrepreneurship is not supported. Money will circulate among the same hands if there is no deliberate preferential procurement and no transformation of the supply chain of big economic players by introducing new and young suppliers of goods and services.
Communities will remain poor if there is no deliberate strategy and commitment from companies to invest in them rather than just extract profit from them and disappear.
All these things are what BEE really means. If in the process of implementing these cardinal imperatives black billionaires are created, so be it. We can, however, not allow a progressive policy like this to be discredited merely because of a misplaced fear that BEE is meant to produce a few black millionaires – as if such wealth is the preserve of white people.
BEE is here to stay – this is one policy that the ANC will never apologise for implementing. If anything in the next 20 years, it has to be accelerated and monitored for success.
* Zulu is the head of the ANC subcommittee on communication and the presidential adviser on international affairs.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.