The Black Business Council: A throwback to apartheid?

David Bullard asks if such a body is really necessary in the non-racial new South Africa

Something called the Black Business Council (BBC) was reborn last week and I am still puzzled as to why. As far as I can ascertain the BBC was formed way back in 1996 and then merged in 2003 with something called Business South Africa (which was apparently run by the whiteys). The new entity was called Business Unity South Africa or BUSA, a name that turned out to be singularly inappropriate because all the organisation ever seemed to do was to indulge in puerile squabbling. Hardly the stuff business leadership should be made of.

Enter Jimmy Manyi of the Black Management Forum around 2009/2010. Mr Manyi has frequently expressed the view that there is no skills shortage in this country. The real problem, he thinks, is the whiteys who simply won't allow blacks to run anything. At this point you may feel a strong desire to point out that Eskom, Transnet and SAA contradict this accusation and to further mention that none of the three mentioned (and there are others) have been what one might term unqualified commercial successes. But it would be rude and, more importantly, not in the spirit of the new SA to accuse Mr Manyi of talking arrant nonsense. Even if he is.

I should point out by the way that Mr Manyi was on the payroll of a white owned company when he started making comments about racism in the workplace and the lack of opportunity for the ocean of black management talent. He would have been quite at liberty to start his own successful company and prove his point but he preferred to take a guaranteed regular salary from the "enemy" while nipping at the hand that fed him. Smart fellow our Jimmy.

So let's come back to the present and ask why, in a society that claims to be non racial (wasn't that what 1994 was all about?), we need something called a Black Business Council? Let's first dispel a few myths before putting the steel toe cap well and truly into the obscene idea of a Black Business Council.

Myth number 1: After eighteen years whites still control the economy and it's jolly well not fair

This pouting, sulking, whimpering, petulant whine deserves to be exposed for the nonsense it is. The truth is that the ANC have put every obstacle they could think of in the way of business. They introduced affirmative action, absurd labour laws and black economic empowerment. The cost of doing business rose to accommodate what was nothing more than social tinkering.

Unless a business had its quotas it couldn't continue to trade. Worse, unless it was BEE compliant it would not be allowed to do business with government or its agencies. So much for the free market. So a BEE compliant company selling office chairs for R3000 each trumps a non BEE compliant company that sells the same chairs for R1500 each. How does that make sense?

For 18 years the odds have been stacked in favour of black owned business and if many still haven't cracked it that should be their problem not ours.

But here's the knock out punch. If we really want to grow this economy and create jobs what the hell does it matter what colour a businessman's skin happens to be? Particularly in a country that brags about non racialism. If white businessmen happen to be running most of our supermarket chains and creating jobs and wealth for the country so be it.

If our most successful farmers happen to be white and producing goods for export who cares? Well obviously people like Jimmy Manyi care a lot. So much so that they would be prepared to destroy a system that works in favour of the modern version of a Verwoedian nightmare.

Myth number 2: Whites don't want blacks to be rich

Oh yes we do. We're rather tired of bearing the increasing tax yoke and we would love you to be rich and to pay lots of tax. We have no problem with watching you swerve along the N1 in your new BMW 7 series while trying to work your smartphone. We love to see you having a good time because the more successful you all are the more you have to lose and the more politically stable the country theoretically becomes. What gives us whiteys the heebies is all those people without jobs living literally a stone's throw away from Sandton. We whites would dearly love for them all to be much richer. But would you?

Myth number 3: White business doesn't want to share its skills with black business

Again, a load of old cobblers. Look, we may not be quite ready to hand over the recipe for Coke or the blueprint for the new iPad4 but we aren't completely daft. We know that two heads are better than one and that you guys represent more than 80% of the population. So why would any savvy businessman of any colour want to miss out on a potential 80% of the market? If we're going to create jobs and wealth we need one another.

So now we come to boot time. The only possible reason for forming something as divisively named as the Black Business Council is to channel business, by fair means of foul, on the basis of skin colour. At the subtle end of the scale it's moral suasion but at the other end of the scale it has the potential to lead to unmitigated corruption.

We know how tenders are awarded in this country and how shoddy the work frequently is. We know from bitter experience that corruption has cost the country billions and will continue to do so. To form something called the "Black" anything sends clear signals to foreign investors that some palm greasing may need to be done if you want to do business in SA. Is that really the message that responsible black business wants to send out?

David Bullard's new book "Out to Lunch-Ungagged" is now available at book shops and online. All author's proceeds go to charity. He can be followed on Twitter here.

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