Political shifts threaten BEE

BEE has crossed the floor. Consider the evidence: the key symbols of the state’s empowerment drive have quit the ANC to join the Congress of the People (Cope). This has implications for the future of empowerment as the internal lobbyists for the policy are now on the outside.

For the past decade one of the best lobbyists for BEE has been Gloria Serobe, CEO of Wiphold and a confidante of former president Thabo Mbeki. She was key to the president’s black business working group and was at the centre of most of the big empowerment deals which have been struck, notably those at Old Mutual and Telkom.

With its access to a network of urban and rural women her Wiphold is seen as the primary vehicle for broad-based empowerment. Her access to power increased her equity as the country’s primary networker. Serobe is now a notable member of Cope, the party which has split off from the ANC and which has come to define this election.

Her male counterpart is undoubtedly Saki Macozoma, deputy chairperson of Standard Bank and one of the ANC’s early advocates of a mixed economy model. He quit Parliament to become Transnet’s first black CEO and used that as a stepping stone into the world of big business. For years he was the counterweight to the communist and union lobbies within the ANC but lost his national executive position at the Polokwane conference in 2007.

Since then he has been marginalised by the ruling party and announced his decision to join Cope earlier this year.


A veteran of the BEE movement, Wiseman Nkuhlu, is Cope’s candidate for Eastern Cape premier. He has been under fire within the Eastern Cape Development Corporation, which he chairs. Then, there is Smuts Ngonyama best known as the former ANC spokesperson but also a significant businessman in his own right. The millions he built up are now being used to fund Cope’s inaugural campaign.

There is also a younger generation of empowerment players now in Cope’s fold. This group is symbolised by Mooketsi Mosola, former Tourism SA chief executive and now chief campaign manager for Cope, and includes generally young and successful black professionals and business people.

The ANC is fighting back.

Around Johannesburg’s northern suburbs, where the black diamonds have altered the urban culture, it’s a common sight to see Mercs, Hummers and BMWs draped in the colours of JZ — black, green and gold. In March the Confederation of Black Business Organisations was launched. Clearly supporting the ANC, this federation of eight allied organisations of black businesses and professionals was conceived as a counterbalance to those who have left to seek their fortunes in a new movement.

Either way, black business is going into this election more politically diverse than it has been since the end of apartheid. The jury’s out on whether this is a good or a bad thing for empowerment.

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