B-BBEE Amendment Bill: Thoughts from inside the Parliamentary working group

Graham McIntosh sets out a simple amendment that could draw the racial poison from the draft legislation

The B-BBEE Amendment Bill --- would Biko have approved?

Even though it is 20 years since South Africa achieved it's freedom, it is incontrovertible that there needs to be a programme of "corrective action" (regstellende aksie) or "recoupment" for those previously disadvantaged under apartheid. The dilemma is how to achieve that legitimate goal without perpetuating a Verwoerdian race obsession, that horribly clashes with the cherished dream of a prosperous South African rainbow nation. I made a proposal in the Working group on the B-BBEE that will go a long way to solving that dilemma. It requires the insertion of only one preposition and one date.

The Bill does fundamentally three things. It entrenches race into South African law and does so 20 years after 1994, by advantaging previously disadvantaged individuals (PDI) in terms of procurement by the State and state organs; it creates a BBBEE Commissioner, with powers not dissimilar to the Spanish Inquisition, within the Department; it gives the Minister unprecedented power to amend codes and interfere through his employee, the Commissioner. The Bill also rightly addresses "fronting", which is, in any case, the common law crime of fraud.

This Bill will re-racialise South Africa. It is about the Manyi ideology, not the Mandela vision. It will hold back our infrastructure development, government's service delivery and industrialisation programme because it seeks a future that marginalises one section of our population and one with huge skills, energy and experience. It is a bit like refusing to use one of one's really good bulls to help cover your herd of cows. The Bill represents the spirit of whining and whinging from a position of victimhood, exactly as the government has whined when the British Government paid South Africa a genuine compliment by announcing that it was terminating most of it's aid to us.

In my view Steve Biko would have opposed a Bill like this, because the subliminal message is that blacks are inherently less competent than other races. There is no provision for a "sunset clause" and its absence re-inforces the iniquitous stigma and lie, that blacks cannot compete in the open market of the new South Africa even after 20 years of freedom.

Nothing holds back an entrepreneur, whether in business or sport, if there is the freedom to get ahead. Without in any way being flippant, blacks, as growers, distributors, transporters, retailers monopolise the huge dagga trade. Only seriously good entrepreneurs and risk managers could do that. They also dominate the multi-billion rand combi taxi industry as well as the world of stokvels and, indeed, the thousands of entrepreneurial independent churches. Are there fiercer defenders of property rights or guys with bigger b***s, than these serious risk takers?

One has to be blind or obtuse not to see that Black South Africans are "seizing the day" of economic growth that 1994 has so powerfully released them to do. As President Jacob Zuma - himself a man who astonishingly rose from being a kitchen boy to the highest office in the land -- said in his Freedom Day address, "There are many achievements on the economic front .... the South African economy has expanded by 83 percent over the past 19 years."

There is even more good news. Over the last eight years the South African Black Middle Class (BMC) has way more than doubled, growing by about 250% from 1.7 million in 2004 to an estimated 4.2 million last year. BMC car ownership has risen from about 750000 to 1.9 million over the same period (also an increase of about 250%), and DSTV subscriptions have risen many-fold from 9% to 64% (see here and here).

The 2011 Census results reveal how well South Africans are doing and especially black South Africans. Fridges are in 66% of South African homes. The middle and upper income group suburbs are genuinely integrated and becoming more so, our churches are integrated and so are our schools and sports teams. The cell phone has become ubiquitous (83% of South Africans possess one) and the smart phone is giving unprecedented leverage, if not catapulting, all our people from rural villages, towns and cities and farms into the new technology age. Some say poverty must be re-defined because how can somebody possessing a cell phone be poor? Blacks are fast growing investors in the JSE both individually but hugely through the pension funds that invest on their behalf.

These facts and there are many more examples, are curiously ignored by the people who are piloting the B-BBEE Amendment Bill. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), when asked if there is provision for a "sunset clause", responded by saying that" there cannot be a sunset if there hasn't been a sunrise!" The reality is that there is an ongoing and snowballing economic sunrise in South Africa for blacks, who are defined in old Apartheid terms, in the Bill, as "African, Indian and coloured and Chinese". The rationale or ideology behind this Bill is that blacks must still be advantaged even after 20 years of freedom and they must indeterminately remain advantaged.

The sophistry used is that they have endured 300 years of "asset stripping". Blacks are forging ahead in the South African economy and will do so even faster if we can get our growth rate over 5% but getting there will need every single South African. The increase and dominance of blacks and women in tertiary education will go a long way, and has already, to addressing the goal of the economic empowerment of the whole rainbow nation.

Many blacks, who are doing well and have risen well above their circumstances because of their own acumen and hard work, are extremely uncomfortable with this kind of legislation and some rightly, in my view, see it as insulting. I think Biko would have. This Bill is not about correcting and recouping but about entrenching racism.

There is a very simple way to solve the dilemma of dealing with our racist past but also bringing hope and a future of full citizenship for all South Africans. I proposed, with a one sentence motivation, in the Parliamentary Working Group on the Bill, on which I am privileged to serve, the insertion of "before 1994" in the definition of "black".

Amendment to (page 3 line 5) - (a) who are citizens of the Republic of South Africa by birth before 1994 or by descent;

MOTIVATION A simple way to affirm that this Bill has its roots in the past but that any South African who turns twenty in 2014 can embrace a non-racial future within the Mandela vision.

Also in his Freedom Day address Zuma said "despite numerous ‘trying' moments, South Africans stood together in unity."

On 21 April 2013, FNB economist, Cees Bruggemans wrote, "Although race has marked us out historically for conflict, other societies have a history of much deeper enmity that South Africans claim to be foreign to them, and rightly so; something outsiders consider a challenge understanding fully, for it nearly always comes as a complete surprise to them."

Minister Davis and his Department seem to want to permanently poison the well of South Africa's enormous racial good will, by shackling our young people to our awful past. We should rather be throwing open the gates to a future that is truly free and non-racial for all South Africans who were born in and after 1994. We will then again surprise the world.

Graham McIntosh MP (COPE) has been a member of Parliament since 1974

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