The time is ripe for real transformation - Zille

Helen Zille says the ANC that has brought the term "transformation" into disrepute.

Despite what some people think, the party I lead is a firm believer in transformation, properly defined. In fact, everything we do - in government and in opposition - is done with one goal in mind: to transform South Africa into the kind of society envisaged in our Constitution

Apartheid was a morally bankrupt system. Apart from perpetuating the dangerous lie of racial superiority, it divided people on the basis of race. It gave a dominant party free rein to abuse its power and it enriched a few at the expense of the many.

This is why we opposed apartheid in the past. And it is why all our efforts are geared towards overcoming its legacy today. Transformation must be about overcoming apartheid, not resurrecting some of its worst features.

If apartheid was characterised by racial division, one party dominance, power abuse and crony enrichment, it follows that transformation strategies should be centred on transcending race and gender, opening up the democratic space, putting limits on power and broadening opportunities for all.

This is what we in the Democratic Alliance mean when we talk of "transformation".

But this is not what the ANC means. And it is the ANC that has brought the term into disrepute. One can discern two main ways in which the ANC abuses the term "transformation" - a narrow sense and a broad sense.

In the narrow sense, "transformation" refers to racial representivity. The success of any organization or institution - be it a sports team or a university - is not measured in terms of its achieving its objectives or mandate.  It is reduced to a numbers game, with success measured in terms of racial quotas. This is called "goal displacement".

A company with a majority black shareholding is said to be "transformed". A sports team that is not deemed to be racially representative is "untransformed." Even a city in which black Africans do not happen to be in a numerical majority is said to be "untransformed."

In the broad sense, the ANC's version of "transformation" goes beyond quotas and numbers.  But the term is still abused, because it refers to whether the ideological viewpoint of an organisation or an individual is in accordance with the ANC.

This is how a white judge who finds for the ruling party in a court case can be said to be "transformed". But a black judge who asserts his constitutionally enshrined independence is somehow "untransformed."  Of course, insisting on the constitutional independence of the judiciary is one of the most important elements of real transformation - where judges find on the merits of each case, according to the law, and are not influenced by politics.  But this does not fall within the ANC's definition of "transformation".

This is why the ANC can say, as it did in a recent discussion document, that "some factions of the media" - even if they have a majority black shareholding - "continue to adopt an anti-transformation, anti-development and anti-ANC stance." Hence the ANC's proposal for a media tribunal. The SABC, on the other hand, because it is run by ANC deployees who toe the ANC line, is deemed to be "transformed". As Julius Malema said recently: "The SABC is our own."  To people like this, it is irrelevant whether the SABC fulfills its mandate as the public broadcaster - as long as it is "ideologically transformed".

For the ANC, racial "transformation" is just a stepping stone towards the complete ideological "transformation" of an organisation. It is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition. Complete "transformation" has occurred when an organisation or an individual thinks like the ANC, talks like the ANC and acts according to the wishes of the ANC.  Look at what happened to the Chairperson of the portfolio committee on Defence in Parliament when he insisted that Lindiwe Sisulu release a report on service conditions within the Defence Force.  He was accused of "ill-discipline" by the ANC, who clearly do not understand the role of the portfolio committee in calling the Minister to account.

Former ANC strategist Joel Netshitenzhe, explained what the ANC meant by transformation back in 1997. According to him:

The transformation of the state entails, first and foremost, extending the power of the National Liberation Movement over all the levers of power: the army, the police, the bureaucracy, intelligence structures, the judiciary, parastatals, and agencies such as regulatory bodies, the public broadcaster, the central bank, and so on."

This is what transformation is really about for the ANC. It is cadre deployment. It is about power. It is about extending the tentacles of the ruling party into every aspect of society. It is a political project. It has little to do with changing the circumstances of the previously disadvantaged.  This approach to "transformation" destroys democracy, which is about limiting power, not seizing or abusing power.

And, ironically, all this version of "transformation" does is take us backwards. Because the more successful the ANC is in its "transformation" project, the more South Africa resembles the apartheid era. Pliant judges, a public prosecutor appointed to do the ruling party's bidding, a party broadcaster instead of a public broadcaster, a media threatened with censorship, an intelligence service dominated by ruling party apparatchiks. Sound familiar?

Like apartheid, this project is about political power and elite enrichment. "Transformation" is not about broadening opportunities for the many, it is about limiting them for a few.

The more cadres that are deployed, the fewer limits on power. The fewer the limits on power, the greater the opportunities for corruption. The greater the opportunities for corruption, the poorer people get.  Until. in short order, corruption leads to a criminal state, a collapsed economy, and the tragic phenomenon known as the "failed state".

It is what Zwelimzima Vavi calls the predator state, although I prefer the term "vampire state" because it involves a small clique of cronies sucking the public coffers dry. Former President Thabo Mbeki put it best. Back in 2005, he said of the ANC's corrupt tendencies:

"What we do in this regard will define whether our organisation, the ANC, continues to maintain its noble character as a servant of all the people of South Africa, or degenerates into an ignoble, blood-sucking and corrupt parasite, an enemy of an immensely heroic people."

Those were prescient words indeed.

For the DA, transformation is about going forwards, not backwards. It is about building a brighter future for all, not replicating our dark past. It is about extending opportunities for all, not allowing them to be monopolised by the politically-connected few. Closed, crony enrichment should never be confused with genuine transformation.

Today, I want to show how what the DA calls "open, opportunity transformation" can - and in some cases already is - changing peoples' lives.

In our view, transformation is not a political project. It is not a numbers game. It is not about manipulating outcomes to satisfy a score-card. And it is not about tokenism. Nobody wants to be a token. People want to feel valued for their ideas, their innovation and their industriousness. They don't want to feel that the only value they add is by improving the melanin or X-chromosome count of an organisation.

And yet this is what happens when you manipulate outcomes to achieve numerical targets. You end up disempowering those you were trying to empower. You end up making people feel as if the only value they add is the colour of their skin - even when it is not.

This is why real transformation cannot be achieved by manipulating outcomes. It can only come about by extending opportunity. It is a bottom-up, not a top-down process. Real transformation doesn't bring about change overnight, but when it does, the change is real and it is fundamental.

It is an approach we are using to transform our party from within. Our Young Leaders' Programme is designed to identify and nurture the best young political talent in the country. It doesn't recruit young people based on quotas. There are no numerical racial targets.

Instead, we choose young people who we believe are the best candidates to take our party forward in the future. As a result, we are building an excellent corps of young leaders - from all backgrounds. They are emerging everywhere throughout the party, at all levels.

For example, our Youth Leader, Makashule Gana, and Youth Chairperson, Mbali Ntuli, this week released a youth development position paper which presents innovative solutions to the most significant challenges facing young South Africans today. And we were delighted last week when one of our Young Leaders, Amanda Ngwenya, was elected President of the SRC at the University of Cape Town.

Our electoral lists are increasingly reflective of South Africa's diversity. Not through a quota system, but through developing a new corps of young leaders from all walks of life, from all over the country. They are young people who see politics as a means to make a difference, not a means to make money through access to state resources; young people who see themselves as free-thinking individuals, not representatives of a class or race group.

That is how we are transforming our party - from the bottom-up. We are doing it by opening up opportunities for people to develop their talents and to prove their leadership mettle.

Outside of the party, in government, our approach to transformation is designed to broaden access to opportunities to those who have been hitherto denied them.

This is why education is our number one priority. Education lies at the heart of transformation because nothing can empower an individual quite like it. International studies have shown that providing girls one extra year of education beyond the average boosts eventual wages by 10-20%. In Africa, mothers who receive five years of primary education have children who are 40% more likely to live beyond age five.

We are also resolutely focused on creating jobs through policies and initiatives that boost economic growth. In practical terms, we are doing this in the Western Cape by developing and marketing a provincial economic brand identity to attract investors, by ensuring that our administration is efficient and corruption-free, by removing unnecessary red tape that hampers business development and by investing in infrastructure - including so-called ‘mega-projects' such as the Cape Town Regeneration Project.

And we are also paying attention to transformation in the rural areas of our province. One of the principal ways to do this is through joint-ownership of farms by farmers and farm-workers or what are known as share equity schemes. We believe it is the most sustainable and productive model of land reform yet tried.

So far there have been 83 equity share ventures in the Western Cape, benefiting 10,000 farm workers. One of the most successful examples of these schemes is at Langrivier near Ceres where 242 farm workers became co-owners of the joint venture company in 2008. In addition to a share of the company's profits, the farm workers have a crèche, access to a fund for their children's education and their own further training. As a result, many workers on the farm have risen to management positions. Some of them now sit on the company's board. This venture has been a success because it spreads ownership, shares risk and reward, and brings the expertise and experience of both the farmer and the workers together. This is the ethos we want to replicate throughout the province.

In government, we are also achieving "open, opportunity transformation" in our approach to Black Economic Empowerment. This is exemplified by what we have done in the City of Cape Town and are in the process of implementing in the Provincial Government. In the last 4 years, we have actually increased the number of BEE companies the City does business compared to when the ANC was in power. We didn't do this through quotas. In fact, we did it by abolishing quotas.

Let me explain how.

When the DA-led coalition came into power in 2006, we revoked the requirement stipulated by the previous ANC government that a company must be at least 30% black-owned to qualify as a supplier of goods and services to the City. We did so because we knew that this stipulation did nothing to broaden BEE, it was simply a mechanism to repeatedly empower political cronies.

To further ensure that tenders weren't being awarded to political cronies, we opened up the Bid Adjudication Committee - which has the final say in awarding the tender - to the public. This led to more companies - particularly SMMEs - bidding for contracts because they no longer had to have political connections to be successful. This not only broadened the base of suppliers, it increased competition amongst suppliers, resulting in a better quality of service across the board.

As a result of this policy shift, the City increased the procurement from BEE and SMME companies from 40% to over 60% between 2006 and the end of last year.  And the City increased the number of vendors from which it procures goods and services from 10,000 in 2007 to more than 15,000 at the beginning of this year. This happened through broadening opportunities for the many, not manipulating outcomes for the few.

We believe that this is how BEE should work. It should be broad-based, it should be aimed at getting emerging black entrepreneurs into the productive economy, it should be designed to stimulate local industry and job-creation and it should be open and transparent. Not just in public sector procurement, but in the private sector too.

There is an emerging consensus that BEE is not working. As Trevor Manuel has said: "If parts of BEE are not working and are having unintended consequences, let's not be religious about it."

And, as you will all remember, in his address to the Black Management Forum earlier this year, President Zuma acknowledged that BEE was not sufficiently broad-based. He vowed to "identify where the current bottlenecks are in implementation, and eliminate the unintended consequences." "We cannot allow an abuse of BEE to empower just a few," he said - a deeply ironic statement given what has now transpired in the Arcelor Mittal deal.

Yesterday, the SACP renewed its call to stop narrow-based BEE on the grounds that the enrichment of a few is fuelling the ANC's factional battles and destroying the alliance as a result.

Everybody agrees that we need to get more people who were disadvantaged by apartheid into the productive economy. What we need now is a serious analysis of whether BEE has achieved its state objective, which is to: "promote the achievement of the constitutional right to equality, increase broad-based and effective participation of black people in the economy and promote a higher growth rate increased employment and more equitable income distribution."

If the answer is no - as it must undoubtedly be, given the number of black South Africans who continue to grind out an existence in dire poverty - then how best can we achieve BEE's original intention? It is time for a serious national debate on this. The DA would relish putting its own ideas into the mix and showing how, in practice, some models of BEE can and do work.

I believe that the time is ripe for serious engagement on the progress of BEE and other means to effect transformation in our country.

In a true democracy, political leaders must have the capacity to form opinions based on the evidence available. They must be principled enough to make their point of view known and articulate enough to defend it. When new evidence emerges or a compelling argument is presented, leaders must have the humility to say: "I was wrong. I have changed my mind."

If we can proceed on this basis, there is room for great optimism. It would give us hope that we may yet avoid the crude replica of apartheid that the ANC wants to impose on us in the name of "transformation." To do so, we must transcend race, one-party dominance, power abuse and crony enrichment. Admitting where mistakes have been made, and charting a new path forward based on lessons learned, is the most important role that South Africa's leadership can play in bringing about genuine and meaningful transformation in our country.

First published in South Africa Today, a weekly letter by the Democratic Alliance, September 17 2010