Opposition parties largely agree that black economic empowerment needs a new dawn. But experts at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) have clung to the traditionally libertarian idea that race should not be used as a proxy for disadvantage.
The lobbying think tank was surprised and disappointed that the Democratic Alliance (DA), with its shared ideological background, announced its decision to adopt a race-based, broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) policy direction.
It fuelled suspicions the party was no longer in touch with its roots. The IRR’s head of media Michael Morris said: “Race-based empowerment has led to the twin negative consequences of needless racial resentment and the enrichment of a politically connected few at the expense of the majority…”
But Joburg Mayor Herman Mashaba said the DA’s leaning towards race-based methods of redress were well-founded and that it was the ANC that had failed to make a success of an otherwise sound concept.
“I have been a big supporter of what the DA wants to do in terms of redress and making sure that, whatever we call it, it must actually amount to redress.
“It must be for those who have really been disadvantaged and not be used to benefit certain individuals … close to the ANC.”
The general consensus has been that a lack of regulation has made BEE a vehicle for corruption and cronyism.
“The few black people who participate in the economy do so subject to white approval through a black economic empowerment model that is ostensibly designed to benefit a small number of individuals without ever changing the structural exclusion of the majority,” reads an excerpt from the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) 2019 election manifesto.
Congress of the People (Cope) secretary-general Papi Ganare expressed a similar view. The party called for a more holistic approach to affirmative action.
“It should start with empowering communities and the only way is to have proper, functioning schools and improving the quality of education.
“It’s a long-term investment and, if it was done 20 years ago, we would be seeing the results now.”
The IRR’s head of policy, Anthea Jeffrey, proposed a similar education-based alternative.
“State-funded vouchers for education, housing and healthcare would increase individual choice, promote competition and drive quality. They would help to liberate the poor, while bringing a new dynamism into the economy.”
Former Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille’s party, Good, disagreed with those who believed BEE and BBBEE should be scrapped because it caused unnecessary racial tension.
Secretary-general Brett Herron said: “Even with these redress measures in place, white unemployment is much lower than black unemployment … the lowest by far, among all races.
“… poverty and economic exclusion are still largely the burden of black South Africans and [other parties] are wrong to suggest that it is unconstitutional for policies to be in place to address this.”