Never look a gift horse in the mouth. Unless it comes from the Greeks who have been besieging your citadel of Troy. As they say, <i>Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes</i> (beware of Greeks bearing gifts). I mention this because, as a professional sceptic, I am duty-bound to look at the downside of even the worthiest corporate schemes, writes Reg Rumney.
It amuses me that we commentators, analysts and consultants pore over the Broad-Based BEE Codes like technicians studying the manual of a motor vehicle to see how best to make it go. Then along comes a saga like the Holcim empowerment deal to remind us how profoundly political BEE is. Whatever codes and charters say, BEE is not a mere technical matter
Are we a nation of navel-gazers? Have South African economic commentators become so complacent that they no longer care about disinvestment? Or is it a sign of being grown up as a country that we now take in our stride a figure that may hint at foreigners' lack of interest in the country's long-term investment prospects?
What lies ahead this year in the area of corporate social responsibility (CSR), which concerns business and its role in society, and corporate social investment (CSI), which refers to the grant-making or corporate giving aspect of CSR? BEE will at once make both CSR and CSI more problematic, but also present new opportunities, this year as the BEE Codes of Good Practice start to filter through business.
Ralph Hamann, senior researcher at the University of Cape Town's environmental evaluation unit, takes a broader view of corporate social responsibility, bringing in international trends. He sketches a number of new issues. “The international investment community is really developing a lot of steam on sustainability issues, especially climate change.
Four separate developments this year will set the course of corporate social investment in the year to come, if not after. Firstly, the biggest philanthropic event this year was undoubtedly the startling giveaway by the world's second-richest man of 85% of his fortune.
When the De Beers black economic empowerment deal was announced last year, Cheryl Carolus could be described as not being "one of the usual suspects". Not now. In a short time Carolus, former ambassador to London and darling of those nostalgic for the optimistic non-racialism of the United Democratic Front, has become a firm BEE favourite.
The biggest black economic empowerment deal of the year may not even be a deal. And it may not even be that big in monetary terms. Yet its implications are huge. In February, IBM announced it would add 900 jobs to the 500 it already has at its South African call centre.
The big deal about the fact that a woman officiated at our Islamic wedding ceremony was that virtually no one thought it was a big deal. Apart from an impressed Jewish friend and a concerned Muslim cleric who asked whether there was a precedent for this.
The stark truth is this: even though the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) may rally millions on to the streets, its national strikes no longer stop the economy. And so it was this week. Life went on; most workers went to work; the shops opened, largely staffed by casual workers who generally do not belong to trade unions.
Out in a remote rural area of the Transkei last week an unusual cattle auction, held by a new black economic empowerment auctioneering company, took place. Buyers gathered near a school in the Peddie location, 100km by road from East London. They were bidding for animals that would otherwise end up being sold for ceremonial slaughter or to travelling smouse or speculators.
The importance of black economic empowerment financier Makalani must have whizzed past most newspaper readers when they learned of its imminent launch on the JSE Securities Exchange. The reason is the phrase ''mezzanine financing'', previously a mystery to all but financiers.