Dr Thami Mazwai. File Image
JOHANNESBURG - I do not as a rule respond to people who react to my columns, whether positively or negatively. It is their democratic right to do so and in a publication that also wants to give all sides of the story.

But the reaction to my column on Johann Rupert describing radical economic transformation (RET) as nothing more than theft terrifies me.

It suggests that the reconciliation that Nelson Mandela advocated - and which was supposedly supported by all and sundry - is not yet come. Interestingly, the reactions to my column are nothing other than muddying the waters.

Also read: OPINION: Rupert’s theft claim is a kick in the teeth for black South Africans

They do not challenge the justification for RET. Instead, the outcry on “state capture by the Guptas”, “poor governance in state-owned companies” and “rampant looting” is being intermingled with every issue that confronts us, whether relevant or not.

I referred to this deliberate muddying of the waters in my last column, but warned that we must not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The baby, in this case, is poverty, unemployment and inequality. Must the efforts to ensure that 31 million live on more than R1000 a month and 20 million of the 31 million get three proper meals a day come to a standstill?”

This is what RET is about. President Jacob Zuma defined it in his State of the Nation address for 2017 as “the fundamental change in the structure, systems, institutions and patterns of ownership, management and control of the economy in favour of all South Africans, especially the poor, the majority of whom are African and female, as defined by the governing party which makes policy for the democratic government”.

Zuma continued to justify RET by pointing out that 23 years into our freedom and democracy, black people are still economically disempowered.

He stressed that blacks are dissatisfied with the economic gains from liberation. For instance, he said “the gap between the annual average household incomes of African-headed households and their white counterparts remains shockingly huge. White households earn at least five times more than black households, according to Statistics SA".

He summed it up by saying that the situation with regard to the ownership of the economy mirrors that of household incomes. For instance, he quoted figures by the National Empowerment Fund that only 10percent of the top 100 companies on the JSE are majority-owned by black South Africans.

Millions on grants

If I may add, close to 17 million people are on grants. It is unacceptable that at least 30percent of our population must depend on grants for a livelihood.

The most frightening figures are those of people “not in education, employment or training” (NEET). This NEET threat faces our country. According to the Department of Higher Education and Training, in 2016 there were 7.1 million NEET persons among adults aged between 35 and 64 years, followed by 4.4 million in the age group 25-34, while the youth category aged 15-24 recorded 3.2 million persons.

In short, about 14 million South Africans, black and white, do not have the appropriate skills to create a livelihood for themselves.

The number for adults aged 35-64 and youth aged 25-34 increased by 581000 and 242000 persons, respectively, from 2013 to 2016. This is what Tony Ball, David Warner and James Cunningham, who challenged my column, seem oblivious of as they defend the indefensible. We cannot leave this crisis to the market. Not when Acemoglu, Gelb and Robinson (2007) have justified black economic empowerment, therefore RET, on the basis that it champions an economic equality, which would not itself be a natural market outcome of the changed political environment.

Let us be clear, I do not condone the capture, looting or poor governance of SOEs referred to above. Finish and klaar!

But, let us separate these from the urgent responsibility to address poverty, unemployment and inequality. I am sorry to have said Ebbe Dommisse had passed on; I mistook him for another journalist who has died. I must, however, respond to the putrid comments by Tony Ball who claims some of the millions getting social grants are a result of “rampant breeding”. He untruthfully says this is blamed on “culture”.

For his information, the so-called “rampant breeding” is a consequence of systems that deliberately destroy families and their values as colonialism, apartheid and many other forms of repression did. Ball plays ignorant of the fact that the deliberate destruction of social systems leads to the degeneration of morality. This is what happened in black communities because of apartheid; as it also did to oppressed Aryan, Jewish, Arab or Asian communities.

As in the past the victim is being blamed. Lastly, I respect Rupert for his acumen as a businessman, but he fails lamentably as a fellow South African concerned about the welfare of his compatriots, particularly those who have been disadvantaged by a system that enabled him to be where he is now, a global icon. His family may have opposed apartheid but, as with many other whites who also opposed apartheid, it benefited them as it was national policy and enforced.

The least he can do is accept that it is wrong for 20 million of his countrymen to live on less than R441 per month. Aikona, it cannot be right.

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