Ravi Pillay, MEC for Human Settlements and Public Works in KwaZulu Natal

JOHANNESBURG - The distortions of the proposed amendments to the BEE legal framework seek to portray a complete exclusion of Indians and Coloureds from having any BEE status; this is simply not true.  

The crux of the proposals is that Black Africans should be the beneficiaries of at least 60% of state procurement.  This means that 40% of state procurement would still be available for Indian, coloured and white beneficiaries.  Most people would regard this as reasonably fair having regard to the fact that Black Africans make up 87% of the people of KwaZulu Natal whereas Indians, coloureds and whites make up the balance of 13%.  

It is important to unpack why it was necessary to develop this proposal.  As the ANC, as a government and even as individuals, our track record in fighting racism is there.  Our provincial government took Mazibuye African Forum to court and interdicted their unacceptable threats.  We have confronted and contested all racism or any conduct that is inconsistent with our constitutional values.  I am proudly a South African of Indian origin and always urge all South Africans to claim their space.  For this, we need fair and equitable economic opportunities.

Part of our response to the threats and prospect of instability was to commission an investigation into xenophobia.  An eminent panel led by Judge Navi Pillay prepared a comprehensive report and recommendations.  Provincial government also appointed a special committee on social cohesion precipitated in the main by worrying Indian-African tensions.

Both reports concluded that economic inequality was the main cause of inter-racial tension.  Even prior to that as the provincial government, we were dealing with allegations and perceptions that procurement opportunities were skewed in favour of a small racial minority.  Our provincial government responded at that time by calling a procurement indaba.  

Statistical analyses tabled at the indaba revealed that approximately 34% went to whites, 32% to Indians and 30% to Black Africans.  The worrying part of this statistic was that the Black African stake had dropped from 38% a few years earlier. We must be alert to that anomaly and correct it.

In certain specific fields, the figures were outrageously disproportionate.  The demographic profile of landlords from whom government leases buildings for instance is alarming – 80% of the landlords are white or Indian. This kind of pattern is not politically, socially or economically sustainable.  

It was in this context that the proposals were developed to seek a more equitable formula.  The BEE proposals do not seek to exclude but rather to be inclusive in a fair, proportionate and defensible manner.

Of course, our priority remains to grow the economy for everyone.  A shrinking economic cake poses disaster for all.  We need a strong social compact.  We understand that we must build confidence in the business sector. We have been engaging them.  We think business understands this political imperative and are embracing it.  Soon there will be a summit that includes the Top 100 companies operating in KZN.

Stereotyping the Indian community and putting them into one basket is wholly incorrect. The overwhelming majority of the Indian community are not rich.  There is a very significant number who are poor and working class.

These proposals are not intended to impact nationally but to respond to specific issues in KwaZulu Natal. A friend of mine remarked the other day that KZN has always been unique, it is unique because of the English, it unique because of the Zulus, it is unique because of the Indians.  There is in fact a serious side to that flippant statement but we have always been consistent about being a non-racial, socially cohesive society.

We believe that Indian business people and professionals have a special contribution to make in growing our economy.  Their enormous skill, creativity, discipline, commitment and patriotism can add to their already enormous contribution to the growth and development of our country in general and our province in particular.

The struggle credentials of activists from the Indian community are a powerful platform to build on.  This community chose to be on the right side of history by standing firm for social justice and many paid a high price for that.  We must applaud the ongoing and sterling charitable and humanitarian work done by organisations like Al Imdaad, Divine Life, Ramakrishna Centre, Gift of the Givers and legions of others.

There can be no doubt that there is the capacity to embrace the new political imperatives in the same manner that the Indian community has done throughout its history.

Ravi Pillay is the MEC for Human Settlements and Public Works in KwaZulu Natal and a member of the Provincial Executive Committee of the ANC.

- BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE