What was BEE designed for?
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By: Sibulele Siko-Shosha
Starting a business is not easy, but maintaining it is even harder. In my 13 years experience as an entrepreneur I have learned that there is no surefire way of ensuring entrepreneurial success.
With an ecosystem such as South Africa, the societal redesign that came with democracy had an intention of ensuring that the social economic gap would be mended.
This brought with it the introduction of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), which served a sole purpose of ensuring that the historical economic wrongs were remedied through providing increased opportunities for those who did not have access to successfully trade and conduct business with the South African government.
This new opportunity brought with it a redefined way of doing business called tendering. From established enterprises, to ambitious start up’s; tendering brought with it the euphoric illusion that was carried out by the designed perceptive meaning of South Africa entering a democratic era.
The country’s biggest challenge has always been access. This new way of business did not fix existing issues. Entrepreneurs who did not have existing relationships with government found themselves in the unknown abyss of collecting crumbs in the form of meaningless contracts that did not ensure the foundations of creating generational wealth. The truth is the contracts which carried real value, to ensure real change, from gate-kept for a select few black entrepreneurs with the rest remaining for established white owned enterprises.
Where I am sitting as a young black entrepreneur, I am left with a huge distaste in my mouth on how I, in 2021, am still experiencing the residual effects of inequality in the boardroom through the doors I can open and the opportunities I can unearth, despite my capability and talents.
In 2019 the government released a 25 year review on the progress that democracy has made in South Africa’s economy. This review showed that instead of decreasing the inequality gap, systems such as BEE laid a foundation of further economical divide and shrunken access to sustainable opportunities.
The report further indicated that programmes such as BEE had a negligible effect in wealth distribution. Fast forward to 2021; where the heydays of BEE have come to an end. This has been due to the increased corruption rate and the mismanagement of funds, which has resulted in the closing of many businesses that are black-owned and were intentioned to performed a function that they failed to achieve.
This resulted in these business owners going back to formal employment in order to make ends meet. I recently had a conversation with an entrepreneur friend of mine, about the importance of injecting the spirit of entrepreneurship within the home. The friend is a third generation entrepreneur.
He fondly recalled how business conversations were a natural conversation piece at the dinner table, growing up. This was because his father and grand father were both entrepreneurs. On the other hand, I’m a product of civil servant parents who unconsciously preached the importance of survival through employment.
My decision to get into business was not met with the same enthusiasm as my colleague but rather the anxiety of guaranteed failure as the system had proven through those before me. If one does not have strong political ties, success is just a dream. I now find myself being a first generation entrepreneur, as I carry the residues of corruption and the perception of non delivery by black entrepreneurs. My hill is steeper now because levelling field opportunities like BEE have proven ineffective.
This therefore leaves me with a concerning question of whether I would be one of the contributors of successfully laying the foundation for generational wealth?
Let’s have this conversation again in 10 years, to see how far I’ve gone.
Sibulele Siko-Shosha is the founder, creative director and TV executive producer of the Dumile Group.
* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites.
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