Its time black South Africans had a conversation with themselves to drive their own economic emancipation

Dr Sibongile Vilakazi is the president of the Black Management Forum.

Dr Sibongile Vilakazi is the president of the Black Management Forum.

Published Jul 31, 2023


On the 20th of July 2023, the Black Management Forum (BMF) hosted a robust thinking session on reimagining Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE). We invited contributions from founding BMF President, Eric Mafuna; Economic analyst, Duma Gqubule; Business men, Dr Ruel Khoza, Mashudu Ramano and Sipho Nkosi to help unpack the issues surrounding B-BBEE in its current form and how we may want to proceed henceforth.

As if telepathically, the speakers were aligned in their message that the time has come for black South Africans to explore who they are culturally and to explore their collective purpose in order to shape the kind of economic program that reflect their best interests.

In his talk, Ramano articulated that the biggest success of colonialism and apartheid was its ability to convince Black Africans that they had no ability to produce anything for themselves and they had no culture of their own. That instead they were consumers of others’ cultures and ideas.

This was of course not true because Africans have always had their own ways of living that were scientific. They produced everything from their own food, clothing, medicine and even permanent ink.

They knew for instance that certain snake fat can heal burn wounds completely and they healed themselves by mixing plants and herbs and produced their own products by mixing elements of the earth or the “periodic table”. This was until they were convinced that they needed to stop and rather purchase everything produced by someone else.

Khoza and Nkosi amplified this message by pointing out that we had believed what had been told about us as a people so much that we could not see the way out for ourselves. However, we had blamed colonialism and apartheid enough for our troubles.

We needed to stop externalising the blame and take charge of our destiny. It was time we used the legislative environment appropriately. Introduce tighter legislation that is not open to interpretation and be clear that South Africa is not simply an ‘outpost of Europe’, existing for extraction to empower Europe or the West. The legislative framework must be conducive for the development and validation of Africans. We must partner in our own terms and not be price takers.

Mafuna concluded the message by highlighting that we must stop undermining ourselves as a people because the world envies us. What makes South African talent attractive globally is our work ethic and creativity.

We must know and believe that we are outliers as a country because we have achieved what many countries only dream of because we are able to rise from impossible conditions. Everyone in the room had come from a background that was meant to have broken them but had managed to get ourselves out of those backgrounds using whatever little resources were at our disposal. Therefore, we must be patient with ourselves because it takes generations to achieve what we are looking for.

We must remove the notion that we are an incapable nation and continue to have conversations with ourselves.

These are the frank conversations that are necessary and must happen at every corner to allow us to reflect about our own reflections and start moving in the direction of the desired economic emancipation.

Gqubule used China as a case study to show what is possible when a people are clear about their own development. The fact that China had a 20-year vision and doubled the size of the economy every decade. The 20-year vision was broken down into 5-year plans with annual targets and adjusted tools of micro-economic policy accordingly to achieve the vision. Therefore, we must not reinvent the wheel but learn from those who had gotten it right.

The thinking session was a first of many to come to drive these conversations with ourselves in order to reach consensus on the future we want to paint for the transformation agenda in the country.

The current efforts at implementing B-BBEE and Employment Equity in particular have left a feeling of distrust amongst black professionals. The fact that 23 years of implementing Employment Equity Act has yielded 13.8% of Africans in top management versus 65.9% Whites in the Private sector and 20% Africans in senior management versus 55.1% Whites has shown that the transformation policies will not yield the desired results in the short-term and a different way of thinking must be introduced.

The private sector is not willing to disrupt itself in favour of transformation and, therefore, black South Africans must start a process of disrupting themselves rather, to the benefit of their own economic emancipation. The time is now and we are ready!

Dr Sibongile Vilakazi is the president of the Black Management Forum.