Our current anti-black, anti-poor economic inequality gave Clicks ad more bite and stench
Victor Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business, media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.
Johannesburg - Forty-three years ago, this weekend, Bantu Stephen Biko was assassinated by apartheid police. He was only 30.
South Africa, so far, has dishonoured his legacy: black consciousness. This is tragic for a country whose population is over 90% black, with a governing party founded to defend the rights and freedoms of black people.
The Clicks/Unilever booboo – white supremacist stereotyping of hair – marked the anniversary of the death of the high priest of black consciousness by exposing how racialised the South African economy still is. The advert would still be offensive in an economically egalitarian society, but our current anti-black, anti-poor economic inequality just gave it more bite and stench.
How did we end up with world class South African companies so tone-deaf, committing early childhood development mistakes in stakeholder relations management?
Answer: we reduced 1994 to a token political milestone and a public relations jamboree. We mistakenly overlooked that politics is about economics, not slogans. We are still going to pay a heavy price unless we change things drastically.
White-owned companies played a dirty and selfish game in the build-up to 1994. They co-opted some politically connected black South Africans, denying the country a chance to be inclusive.
Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) helped to legitimise our tinkering with – instead of eradicating – economic injustice. This allowed racism to persist in boardrooms and value chains of most businesses.
The adoption of the Codes of Good BEE Practice made many white companies to do the bare minimum to secure government contracts. Others used fronting.
For most retailers, like Clicks, selling directly to consumers, transformation became a compliance nuisance. This could explain Clicks Group being a Level 6 contributor to B-BBEE. The group scored 76 out of 109 points for its contribution to B-BBEE, per SANAS-accredited verification agency EmpowerLogic, in the year to November 8, 2019.
If Clicks were to do business with the government, its B-BBEE score would be a disadvantage because whatever the government spends on such a business would count for only 60% of its value. However, this group that mainly sells to individual consumers managed to get away with being only two levels from the bottom rung of the B-BBEE Procurement Recognition Levels.
This was until Monday, when the EFF took matters into its own hands and disrupted operations at many outlets of the retail group. That is what happens when the system fails the majority: rabble-rousers can take charge.
The methods of the EFF can be debated, but so can the effectiveness of the ANC’s enforcement of the constitution to protect the majority.
Sadly, it is futile to dictate how aggrieved people should voice their anger, or whose lead they should follow, from afar. The EFF was asserting the dignity and pride of black people. Rather than criticise the EFF, let us find ways to help those suffering from lockdown-induced economic depression, turn the economy around, intensify intra-Africa trade, be decisive about corruption and accelerate service delivery.
Let the #BlackLivesMatter movement and this Clicks blooper remind us all that the time for cosmetic change is over.
* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.