Foreigners should be informed about BEE

The policy of black economic empowerment (BEE) should be better communicated, especially to foreign countries, an economics conference was told on Thursday.

Addressing delegates on the political outlook for South Africa, Professor Willie Esterhuyse, of the University of Stellenbosch, said a trade agreement between South Africa and the United States is in danger of being further postponed because of “misconceptions” about the equity and control transfers in BEE guidelines.

Esterhuyse proposed that a task team of well-informed people who can take criticism be formed to improve the communication of South Africa’s BEE policy to the rest of the world.

“There is no way we can run an economy that is racially based ... despite criticism against the implementation of the policy, we have succeeded in deracialising the economy quite substantially,” he said.

Esterhuyse said there have been mistakes in implementing BEE, and the government should deal with valid criticisms.

Of the US’s criticisms, contained in a top-level document that he has seen, Esterhuyse said South Africa should be careful in case a lack of understanding of BEE on the part of the Americans is used by them to get business exemptions.

“They negotiate in a certain manner and they pitch very high,” he said.

Earlier, Esterhuyse said South Africa is a transitional society about mid-way through a “managed revolution” across the political, social and economic dimensions.

He described the country as an emerging middle power, in the mould of Sweden, for which former president Nelson Mandela and incumbent Thabo Mbeki, “a networker par excellence”, should be credited.

Esterhuyse said this position will be strengthened over time—not only continentally but globally, with Mbeki possibly playing a leading role upon his retirement.

On the succession debate and concerns on who will replace Mbeki, and the possible consequences this holds for South Africa, Esterhuyse said this is not an issue because the country relies on entrenched and sustainable policies.

“If you have good policy in place, you can even bring in a Ronald Reagan and it will be a success.”

Esterhuyse noted that of the two forms of populism in the country, socialism and capitalism, it is capitalism and its obsession with short-term gain that poses the greater danger.

He also said that the poor and marginalised, who are a “very weak and fragile” base of the economic pyramid, should be looked after and their aspirations addressed.

His prognosis of deepening democracy in the country is that there is no reason to be pessimistic, even though the government needs to “jack up” its policy implementation in education, justice, and provincial and local government.

Esterhuyse said given the divergent conditions and structures, South Africa will “definitely not” go the route of Zimbabwe, particularly over land and property rights.

He was addressing about 400 delegates attending the Bureau of Economic Research-hosted conference The South African Economy: The Next 10 Years.—Sapa

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