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Is B-BBEE an anchor for democracy?

In part 1 of this B-BBEE and Democracy Series we stated that the economy is the engine of reconciliation, and Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment is the engine of transformation. The constitution is the coolant system of the economic engine, without which the country has the potential to overheat because of persistent poverty, inequality and unemployment. South Africa is an outlier country, with many historical points of reflection that attest to its outlier nature. South Africa has a world-acclaimed constitution that was jointly crafted by blacks and whites, which is an expression of its outlier nature. The negotiation table of 1994 included all races that engaged in a collective outlook of the country, which attests to its outlier mindset.   

The constitution of the country has been touted as the most progressive document the world over, however its advent created a dependency mindset. South Africans, and black people in particular, have trusted that leaders would do the right thing, for the right reasons, and all the time. Black people have sacrificed their humanity to leaders who have failed to uphold the noble principles of this very constitution. South Africans in general have been waiting for an economic messiah to arrest the conditions of inequality, poverty and unemployment. 

Businesses on the other hand have used their power to influence government policy, to enjoy their trade under favorable conditions. With very little power to negotiate livelihoods by the people, business has failed to consider its role in perpetuating inequality in the workplace. With waiting for a messiah on one hand and complying with business demands on the other, the average black South African relies only on their vote at the polls to reflect their lived experience on the ground. The atrocities of business have been swept under the carpet, and they position themselves as sweethearts of democracy, when in fact they display a minimalist approach to economic transformation. 

Historically, business has always aligned itself with political power, and even carried out the political mandate of those who are in power. Business has not displayed a human-centric mindset, and the work of transformation is seeking to supplant this grossly misguided mindset. When the debate on transformation is advanced, business absorbs it and repositions the imperatives of transformation as potential pitfalls to economic activity. Transformation is seen as an inconvenient project that will stifle potential growth and job creation. 

This approach is also adopted by some black senior leaders in the country, who seem to accept that transformation can only work on the terms of business, and that a radical implementation of it will scare investors and crash our economy. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The preamble of the constitution states that “we the people” should pursue justice, equity and fairness. The operative phrase is “we the people”, which has excluded the majority in healing the divisions of the past, and conveniently muzzled the voice of business in the collective rebuilding of a new country. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was meant to begin the sensitive work of revealing the truth, in particular the economic marginalisation of black people, which the Black Management Forum unveiled at the commission through its submission. This matter will be unpacked in the forthcoming pieces.  

This understanding of the constitution should lead us to view transformation in a variety of different ways, but here is my proposed approach that incorporates three facets of transformation: transformation as a science, seeks to measure the progress of black people in terms of their socioeconomic prosperity in a democratic dispensation. This centralises research and development as a cornerstone of economic transformation, forcing both government and business to invest in proper research. 

Transformation as a craft seeks to create policies and frameworks that will drive the inclusion of black people into the mainstream economy. This is then the legislative framework and the work of government. All policies and legislation must be driven by the imperative of eliminating poverty, inequality and unemployment. In business this would take the shape of having transformation infusing the life-blood of business, from top leadership to the last employee. Woven into the life of business should be breathing and thinking about transformation. The power of management should be seized with creating a more equitable working environment, including remuneration policies, appointments, supply chains and procurement. 

Transformation as an art seeks to create a new society that is fundamentally distinct from what was there prior to transformation efforts, building it from the ground up and focusing on values and principles. This entails accepting that apartheid succeeded in developing unethical leaders in both government and business, who intentionally abused the majority to build their wealth. Business fulfilled the economic mandate of apartheid. Therefore, a new value system is needed that will create the kind of leaders who will champion this transformation. 

Every sector of society needs to be clear on their role in this regard, as to how a new value system can be created and maintained. Business needs to denounce its racism and demonstrate that it is on a new path, and not what we are currently seeing today by crowding out black leadership and black business. 

All stakeholders in society have a particular role to play in fusing the scientific, the craft and artistic perspectives of transformation in the South African economy. This definition should be adopted by business, black lobby groups, government, labour and civil society, and should become the DNA of every conference, discussion, engagement and policy submission in South Africa. 

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Monde Ndlovu
Monde Ndlovu is head of advocacy and thought leadership at the Black Management Forum

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