Christo Wiese, billionaire and chairperson of Steinhoff Holdings, who in 2007 was reportedly the ninth richest person in South Africa with R3 billion personal wealth, was able to make money from a lot of money. He now tops the list at R105bn.

 Photo: Bloomberg
One notable point that caught my eye as I was going through an article under the title #RichList is a caption reading “You need money to make money”.

The author was making a point that “the 20 richest people in the country grew their collective wealth in the past year more than 13 percent, from R256 billion last year (2015) to more than R294 billion this year” (2016).

Renowned retail deal maker, Christo Wiese, who in 2007 was reportedly the ninth richest person with R3 billion personal wealth, now tops the list shoulder-high at R105 billion. The point is Wiese was able to make money from a lot of money. We cannot take away the fact that those who have made lots of money do so after many years of sustained hard work and wise investment decisions.

But many years of a racially cushioned environment is evidenced by the fact that of the many yearly rich lists published, only one is black. This of course is the crux of our problem.

The majority of black people do not have the basis to make lots of money.

Wealth generation

In other words, “they do not have a lot of money to make more money”. How then do we bring equilibrium of wealth generation and accumulation? Not all of us are born entrepreneurs: most must attain good education and skills to generate a decent income that provides sustainable living standards and, in doing so, increase the middle class, broaden the tax base and drive upward economic development.

It is therefore a consequence of responsible citizenry that those who possess a lot of money must enable those without also to come into the economic mainstream. The how is the major poser. None of us cherish being dependent on the generosity of others. What is required, and urgently so, are partnerships with corporates playing a stewardship role in driving commercially viable programmes that integrate small enterprises in particular, to the major value chains of large companies.

The overarching driver is collaboration between government, labour, black business and big business and all at the same table, planning and driving programmes on radical economic transformation.

Read also: Christo Wiese puts more money into Steinhoff

As black people we need to change the architecture of our liberation struggle. We need to redefine radical economic transformation as the final lap of the political struggle for the total liberation of our country and the African continent.

Anthea Jeffery of the Institute for Race Relations, in her published report recently, suggests that BEE has failed with the usual rhetoric that it has only benefited an elite few. The type of empowerment referred to is what I term “headline stories perpetuated as propaganda to confine black advancement away from the mainstream economy”.

It is designed for black people to become a welfare case, while big white business continues to triple its already bulging wealth. That is an old story, it no longer works. Of course there have been many mistakes as BEE evolved, but there are thousands of black entrepreneurs who do business with the state who otherwise wouldn’t be in business.

The report further proposes some “coupon scheme for what it is termed economic empowerment for the disadvantaged, some sort of empowerment social welfare with the acronym EED”. The strategic direction for empowerment of the majority of South Africans cannot be influenced by lobbyist with ulterior motives.

Lobby groups such as the Black Business Council (BBC) remain at the pinnacle of leading black business in particular, and black communities in general, in the narrative to drive radical economic transformation. Through lobbying by such formations, the government has introduced the black industrialist programme.

In January, the Treasury gazetted the 30 percent set-aside programme for SMMEs, for which the BBC championed.

Black-dominated lobby groups must take the lead in defining what radical economic transformation means and what its basic tenets are, provide more content and influence the ANC policies in this regard.

When members of the BBC resolved to disassociate from Business Unity South Africa (Busa), there were many sceptics who shouted racists! Of course the Busa structure was not designed to address what seemed to be considered “side issues of transformation”.

The focus wasn’t on redesigning the skewed economic architecture, but more on protecting the current status quo and somewhere on the periphery accommodate black aspirations. It was only after the BBC became independent of Busa that it was able to design and articulate its positions, and the black industrialist programme is part of the positive outcomes of that disaffiliation.

Blacks are capable of designing and articulating their programmes and have the capacity to realise if certain narratives are a continuous strategy to exclude the majority from the real wealth creation machinery. There is no question that lobby groups are not perfect. They falter from time to time, but they are well placed in mobilising the broader community to advance the broader economic transformation, and to participate in building prosperous communities.

Equally, all organised business and labour formations that are an integral part of our society should be able to mobilise their own constituencies to support and prioritise radical economic transformation as social partners and indeed embrace this national imperative.

Black formations can’t do it on their own, and therefore strong partnerships should be forged, in order to deepen the distribution of new opportunities and drive exclusive growth.

Vested future

What South Africa requires at this stage are well-meaning men and women who have a vested future in this country, and who take the indigenous citizens seriously, and are able to realise that apartheid was indeed an insult and disempowered the majority of its citizens, and that any concocted scheme paraded as empowerment is unacceptable and will not work.

We can no longer afford to waste valuable time on schemes that would not work. We have to overhaul the old economic architecture that is infested with cartels and monopolies underpinned by old boys' clubs, and designed to shut out any new players, local and international, and that situation cannot be left unchallenged.

The Competition Commission is already doing a great job in this regard, and much more needs to be done. Peace and prosperity is not a black or white notion, it is a national imperative.

The economic struggle within the broader national democratic revolution requires each of us to act in unison and strengthen the resolve to make South Africa a better place for all its citizens.

All of us, black and white, must work hard at forging unity and uniformity of purpose, and strive to pull up others along the way. Our future and that of our children depends on it!

Xolani Qubeka is the founder of the Small Business Development Institute and non-executive chairperson of Redisa. He writes in his personal capacity. [email protected]