Empowerment by any other name

Oceana Group has had its growth potential severely crimped by the department of agriculture, forestry and fishing's narrow interpretation of what constitutes "empowerment".

The case highlights a serious contradiction in the government's stated commitment to shift emphasis from ownership to broad-based empowerment. When assessing empowerment credentials for fishing licences, the department assesses only ownership and management control.

On that basis, Oceana's bid to buy fishing rights from other empowerment companies was rejected. The reasoning behind it was to prevent black licence holders from selling their rights to less transformed companies, but that has in effect blocked South Africa's second-most empowered company, which has a strong focus on broad-based transformation, from purchasing fishing rights from black owners.

The company last year failed in its Supreme Court of Appeal challenge to the department's interpretation, with the court ruling that the state is not obliged to apply the codes when determining qualification criteria for issuing licences, concessions or other authorisations. Oceana has accepted the verdict, but it is a difficult situation for the company.

"We're not fighting the issue anymore," says Oceana chief executive Francois Kuttel. "We needed a point of clarity. Clearly we were on the wrong side of an issue we thought we were on the right side of. We've lived the BEE codes in this company since they were promulgated and were under the incorrect perception that they applied across the board."

The department is in the process of amending the codes and Kuttel says he is "waiting to see" whether it will be tackling this area. "It appears they are trying to bring a greater deal of uniformity across sectors, and we welcome that."

There is little indication from government that it plans to address this issue. Indirectly, however, the second draft amendment of the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act has attempted to introduce a "trumping clause" that would make the Act (and therefore the codes) the paramount empowerment reference point.

Although this article has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian's advertisers, content and photographs were sourced independently by the M&G supplements editorial team. It forms part of a larger M&G Most Empowered Companies supplement.

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


South Africa has been junked

Treasury says the credit ratings downgrade “could not have come at a worse time”, as country enters a 21-day Covid-19 lockdown with little money saved up

Mail & Guardian needs your help

Our job is to help give you the information we all need to participate in building this country, while holding those in power to account. But now the power to help us keep doing that is in your hands

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories