Dr Thami Mazwai
The recent march by black lawyers to the presidency highlights three issues: the poor commitment to black economic empowerment (BEE) from some parts of the government; poor entrepreneurial solidarity in the black community; and severe shortcomings of enterprise creation in our educational system.

It is not surprising that black lawyers marched to the presidency because they do not get business from the state. In fact, it would be unsurprising if other professionals such as the engineers did the same.

After all, commitment to BEE has more to do with some ministries than government as a whole.

For instance, former minister Stella Sigcau, and then lately Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, took the bull by the horns to integrate black chartered accountants into real business. Because the two made state-owned companies give auditing business to black accounting firms, we now have more than 10 healthy black-owned accounting firms, with SNG and Sekela Xabiso the better known.

The lawyer’s march is justifiable if only to make some in the government live up to the spirit of Section 9 Sub Section 2 of the Constitution that “measures designed to protect or advance persons, or categories of persons, disadvantaged by unfair discrimination may be taken”.

Many government sectors have been hard of hearing and, to make a point, we hear very little on how black firms are going to get a sizeable chunk from the infrastructure roll-out programme. Instead, overseas firms are first in the queue and are then begged not to forget BEE.

Ye Gods, we are begging people to do what they do in Asian and Arab countries as a matter of course.

Furthermore, the apartheid inspired National Party government was unblinking in placing Afrikaner firms first in the line.

Thus, we want to hear this from Minister Ebrahim Patel as Minister Rob Davies has a black industrialist programme, which depends on the infrastructure roll-out programme for the survival of these industrialists.

It is the infrastructure roll-out that must empower black firms big time in the engineering, roads, water and sanitation sectors, to mention a few, as the private sector will ignore them as is the case right now.

Unless this is done, the previous players in the hard sectors and their foreign competitors will continue to be in the pound seats.

Thanking God for small mercies, the new Procurement Act and its 30percent set aside for black small businesses may assist.

Now let us deal with the two other issues.

The first is to what extent is black supporting black in business? Talking in broad terms, to what extent has independent Africa shed itself of the colonialism induced gospel that what is European is superior and what is African is savage? And, to what extent has a post-apartheid Black South Africa also rescued itself from this mentality?

Patronage

Not when local and indigenous entrepreneurs in black areas do not enjoy patronage from their kith and kin. It does appear the gospel of yesteryear that quality resides elsewhere and not in us still holds sway.

A funeral house which in days past would not even touch a black corpse is today dominating black areas in burying the dead.

As the Afrikaners would say: Skande! Indeed, it is a disgrace that a local activism, which successfully rallied us against apartheid, is not driving a campaign that frees residents in black areas from this bondage of low economic self-esteem.

This bondage flows from the days of apartheid and says black products and services are inferior. It is particularly worrisome as the Gauteng government has rightly turned the neoliberal trickle-down economics paradigm upside down with its township economies rejuvenation agenda.

If we do not support the efforts of David Makhura by buying from the entities his government is capacitating, we are simply shooting ourselves in the foot.

The Gauteng government is doing its patriotic bit and the township consumer must now also come to the party.

The other issue is that a few years ago Teddy Blecher led a task team of the SA Human Resources Council on entrepreneurship.

His team made sterling recommendations that entrepreneurship education must be given from primary school upwards.

I have just returned from an international conference and countries have a compulsory module on entrepreneurship for programmes at universities and technical colleges.

We need to do the same so that doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals leave varsity ready to set up businesses or, better still, create partnerships.

This will result in us blacks being an entrepreneurial community and we then stop relying on 10percent of what others have created.

There’s nothing wrong with BEE share ownership codes but, with all respect, this does not create jobs. It is more about ticking the box than about black empowerment. Admittedly, is no mutual exclusivity on getting shares and creating own institutions.

However, the high gini-coefficient within the black community, if figures revealed by Pali Lehohla are taken into account, says giving shares to individuals or groups is transformative but is not enough.

Long lasting empowerment is the creation of new wealth; hence we must laud the emergence of new business houses created by blacks.

This is the only way to go as future generations will then respect us; just as young Afrikaners hold the creators of Sanlam, Volkskas, Afrikaner Volksbeleggings and other Afrikaner business houses in high esteem. Creating 100percent black-owned commercial houses and supporting them deals with the three issues highlighted above.

Dr Thami Mazwai is special adviser to the Minister of Small Business Development, but writes in his personal capacity.