Transformation, saving jobs equally important
The piece made us realise that the inequality we face around the globe cannot simply be shoved under the table for “possible concern” at a later date - and the pandemic was the ideal backdrop to bring this to light.
South Africa’s inequality “epidemic” is still prevalent given the imbalances in the economy where the black majority do not control a large part of the economy.
Hence, the majority still feels left out and black economic empowerment (BEE) has drawn both ire and criticism from numerous sectors (both minority and majority), with many citing it as a platform to enrich friends and just a false front to attract investment capital - doing little to change the transformational landscape.
Now, Covid-19 has thrown the BEE debate under the microscope again - with a high court ruling in favour of the Ministry of Tourism, seeing a BEE quota as mandatory to receive economic relief during this pandemic.
Even under these country-crippling and oft confusing times, economic transformation must remain top-of-mind to address the injustices of the past.
Although transformation and inclusion are on the subtle rise to eradicate inequality, it’s clearly evident that more needs to be done.
Managerial and senior positions are still mostly occupied by the previously advantaged groups. Access to capital is still being denied to the majority of blacks because of their historical backgrounds. A report in 2018 highlighted that only 38 percent of blacks are represented in JSE-listed companies, whereas they comprise 80 percent of the country's population.
Transformation is imperative as it entrenches the view of fairness and equality. A key characteristic of transformation, therefore, is the magnitude of change in terms of both depth and breadth.
That a puppy becomes a dog, a boy becomes a man or a caterpillar becomes a butterfly is a sign of transformation. I have always argued that transformation should happen on two levels simultaneously - on an individual level and a social system level.
Even though transformation remains imperative and necessary for addressing the imbalances of the past, I argue that as we suffer under siege from this global pandemic, jobs must be the priority - and we must get the balance between the two right - and start now.
Of course, saving jobs right now is a mammoth task as Covid-19 is the decider and it does not differentiate between businesses big or small, white or black, and does not choose who can or cannot live.
Over the past week or so, many arguments from different opposing sides have used the courts to compel either party to accept the other’s views on whether transformation is necessary at this stage.
I argue that transformation is necessary at this point, but to save every jobs where and when possible in South Africa outweighs it amid the pandemic.
Last week, the finance minister said that 7 million jobs could be lost, while the Gauteng premier said that between 250000 and 500000 jobs could be lost in the region alone - and quickly. Experts say that opening up more sectors of the economy under very strict working conditions can help to save countless jobs.
Going back to transformation in tandem with the above, perhaps new opportunities can be taken advantage of, such as the procuring of personal protective equipment from black local suppliers, which I believe the Black Business Council and Business Leadership South Africa are pushing for.
Transformative processes, job retention and creation can all be realised and sustained during this period. Yet we must ensure that we, as a nation, privileged or not, rich or poor, black or white have a mutual ambition to protect, serve and save the economic well-being of our country. As James Allen noted, circumstances don’t make us, they reveal us.
Kizito Okechukwu is co-chairperson of the Global Entrepreneurship Network Africa.