No whites, please!

Sara Gon writes on the commonplace racialism in South Africa today

Much fanfare greeted the launch of the government’s Yes4Youth campaign, whose site enables youngsters who have been unemployed for more than six months to submit their details and have a chance of getting a job with participating companies.

Until a white youngster tried to put her details onto the site only to trigger a message saying: “I’m sorry. Yes is only available to Black, Indian, or Coloured South Africans who are 18 – 34 years.”

And this, a campaign endorsed by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

What the government is doing is acting as the gatekeeper for participating companies without knowing what the companies’ Employment Equity plans are, what targets they have set and whether or not taking on white applicants will present a problem or not.

It is nothing short of a condescending and racist approach which reinforces the odious idea of whites’ ‘original sin’.

The Yes campaign claimed it was bigger than race. Well, it’s not – it’s entirely about race, racism to be exact.

Now, launched with as much fanfare, is Discovery Life’s new bank, Discovery Bank.

It offers a completely digital banking service with products designed to improve the money management of clients. Discovery Bank CEO Adrian Gore says it is ‘built around behavioural economics and leverages a similar rewards model to the companys Vitality programme’.

The bank aims to be the first in South Africa that works to address behaviours that lead to poor financial outcomes, according to Gore. Admirable, if somewhat paternalistic.

But Discovery has done its own Yes4You – Discovery Bank will give black depositors 10% equity in the business, with shares being given to black depositors without any cost or risk to them.

The intention,’ says Gore, ‘is that when black depositors join the bank, they will be given an equity. There will be no requirement for them to purchase shares at all.’

Apparently, Gore has admitted that there is some political risk because the plan excludes white customers.

Attorney Richard Spoor pointed out in a tweet: ‘Its not voluntary. They are forced to do it, just that they have a discretion as to how to reach their race based shareholder quota. They could “sell” shares to politically connected crony capitalists but they chose this route, which is better than most but still race based.’

Gore’s plan takes no account of the circumstances of its black customers. No consideration will be given to whether a client is disadvantaged in any way; the only consideration will be whether the client is black.

Will the bank determine this by the client’s name (unreliable) or will a client be required to state his or her race on application (probably). If all else fails, Discovery could always fall back on the apartheid era’s ‘pencil test’.

Gore’s own statement was an attempt to put lipstick on a pig. Gore’s always had an optimistic take on things, while being uncritical of government.

Discovery Bank can probably afford to take a political risk in alienating potential white customers. After all, whites are a very small percentage of the population and the commercial future is with the black population.

But what if Discovery Life’s white customers took a principled stand and threatened to change their medical aid? It’s probably unlikely – but it would be the least Discovery deserves for failing to challenge the government on the form that BEE should really take.

The IRR can advise Discovery and others about EED or Economic Empowerment for the Disadvantaged. This will benefit that part of black society that needs empowering without discriminating against whites.

Sara Gon is a Policy Fellow at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom. If you agree with what you have just read then click here or SMS your name to 32823.