We’re all to blame for inequity

Dudu Msomi

The lack of progress in the transformation of South Africa’s workplace, as reported in the 17th Commission of Employment Equity report, released this week, comes as no surprise.

The legislative framework to transform the country’s economy – namely, the Employment Equity Act, No. 55, 1998; the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) Amendment Act, 2013; and the Codes of Good Practice – can only succeed through consistent and unwavering implementation.

There is no debate that black people were, and continue to be, disadvantaged in comparison to white people.

However, we have had opportunities to transform the few spaces that we have occupied since 1994, in government and in corporate South Africa, to have made a bigger dent than is currently the case in changing the economic landscape.

For every finger we Africans point at white people for the slow pace of transformation, let us be aware that four fingers are pointing at ourselves.

Whites have had 23 years to figure out our priorities and have literally capitalised on our weaknesses.

They have sussed out that our bark is harmless. We make angry pronouncements on podiums and issue vehement, condemning press releases.

Then it is business as usual.

All that was needed was to dangle money and positions, sometimes with no real authority, in front of us, and our sense of urgency and commitment to our own true freedom and empowerment slackened.

We have squandered decades when white people were expecting the “worst” in post-apartheid South Africa – the radical economic and social transformation that is now being touted.

Government has had preferential procurement to influence the growth of black professionals and entrepreneurs.

Not only do established white-owned companies continue to gain the most benefit through the manipulation of maths and obtaining invalid BEE points, but the small, medium and micro enterprises – mainly black ones – also suffer as a result of corrupt and inhumane supply chain practices.

BBBEE always favoured the politically connected, who attached the trust of the disadvantaged masses to legitimise the broad-based aspect of BEE when it came to ownership. That is no secret.

It was a reality I accepted because business deliberately targets certain individuals for deals rather than just any Vusi, Dudu or Lebo.

It is a fact that, more than 20 years later, the political and economic leadership still come from different ideologies.

To curry favour, the business sector has focused on opening opportunities to the connected few who have influence with the political leadership to legitimise themselves.

This is important because if you do not have that clout with such leaders, not only are you unable to open doors for the business – in other words, access government tenders – but your empowerment deal will also not be newsworthy enough to attract media attention.

This is where the media also become an active participant in, and influencer of, the quality of transformation we have here.

I was not upset by this reality because the general expectation was that those connected few who clinched the ownership deals would share the commitment to transform our economy and would not just sit on boards as shareholder representatives.

It was expected that they would actively ensure that change cascade from the ownership pillar to the other corporate pillars – management control; employment equity; skills development; preferential procurement; enterprise development and socioeconomic development.

Black people who have entered into BEE deals may not always have a controlling veto as minority shareholders, but had they the will, they could attach preconditions to their share of equity deals by, for instance, ensuring that there was a bias towards influencing skills, demographics and procurement policies within a reasonable time frame – backed by concrete and measurable programmes that delivered results.

If not, no deal.

Transformation is a strategic business imperative.

Thus, it is a no-brainer that board members who perform their fiduciary duties would push fervently for the success of BBBEE implementation to ensure the firm’s sustainability.

The Black Management Forum developed a blueprint for affirmative action, called the Basotho Hat, in 1993 and was the leader in drafting the Employment Equity Act, No. 55, 1998.

So, what mechanisms exist within this forum to track progress in companies’ implementation of employment equity?

How many of its own corporate members have achieved better numbers than those quoted in the latest Commission of Employment Equity report – 22% females and 14.4% Africans in top management?

How are these members able to renew their membership every year without being black-listed or shamed?

Are we really now going to do things differently just because we have added the word ‘radical’ to transformation efforts?

Msomi is CEO of Busara Leadership Partners

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