Written by: Kabelo Makgai
B-BBEE (Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment), or BEE (as referred to by most), was introduced by the South African government as a form of social justice in an attempt to grant equal access to goods and services to the previously disadvantaged (black, coloured and Indian) – as opposed to the narrow-based economic empowerment, which is measured by looking at equity ownership and managerial representation. BEE, once dubbed the “new ladder” to greater heights for the previously disadvantaged, can now be seen to actually have been a stepping stone for those who were in political matrimony.
If and when facing reality about BEE, it can be admitted that it is a field open for corruption, fronting, lobbying, and, above all, feeding the connected few who are within the legitimised bubble of theft; these are fabricated weaknesses of BEE. This new class/circle of black wealth (as a result of BEE) would become the new owners and managers who would eventually turn into the “neo-white” apartheid government and treat the starved (not politically connected) as servants and workers.
To strengthen the hold on BEE and the economy by the politically connected, mechanisms such as GEAR (Growth, Employment and Redistribution) and preferred procurement tender methods were put in place. At first glance it looks like these were better ways forward; everyone would be fed properly. However, that was not the case – in actual fact, public service delivery was quasi-privatised by the government to allow a comrade to become a businessman and take a chip from the suit-encircled table. This has become a common way of tender “procedures” in our state, where you find a comrade/“businessman” responsible for building a school, road, etc. This should certainly be the cherry on the cake proving the legitimisation of theft, fronting, lobbying, and political connectivity within the BEE frenzy. The era of tenderpreneurship was born.
Can BEE be said to have altered the fortunes of the previously disadvantaged majority? Certainly not. The fact of the matter remains: had our country taken a different course in our democratic era, we would be in an entirely different situation. Our democratic government opted to rather continue with socialist policies as the apartheid government had. We continued with massive state intervention into the affairs of our people. The government continued to try to engineer our society to what they deemed just and fair. On the contrary, what we unfortunately ended up with is a system that remains as unjust and unfair as it was previously.
Had the leaders at the time trusted our people and trusted the free market, we would have an entirely different situation in South Africa. We continuously get fazed about inequality in South Africa, when in fact, we should be worried about crippling poverty. The solution to poverty is not the redistributing of wealth, but rather the creation of wealth – without this newly-created wealth going to the privileged handful, as was the case forty years ago and is the case today.
This may seem counter-intuitive to many. Following the discrimination many black South Africans faced under apartheid, our first knee-jerk reaction is to take what was taken from us. The social justice and redistribution rhetoric soothes the pain of the past, but only temporarily. The permanent solution that we need is free people, making free choices, with a government that is voted in by the people, trusting its people enough to make a success of their own lives.
Author: Kabelo Makgai is a third-year law student at the University of Pretoria. He currently enjoys sitting on the Residence Management Committee of TuksVillage and is an academic tutor for a number of law modules.