Transform, or we’ll do it for you
The entrenchment of inequality has again come starkly to the fore with the recent announcement that some of South Africa’s major sporting associations will be barred from bidding for international tournaments because of missed transformation targets. The suspension has elicited various reactions. There was, predictably, a racist response from many South Africans, who resort to insulting the government and black people.
There should be little tolerance for such responses, which show a surprising disregard of the pressing issue that is finally being addressed.
We have to take the growing discontent, especially in black communities, about the slow pace of transformation more seriously.
The same is evident in the business community which, thus far, has come off largely unscathed.
The need to move beyond the tick-box exercise of meeting BEE codes, without addressing the principle and moral imperative that they try to redress, has reached a critical stage.
That public instances of racism have been referred to the appropriate authorities is encouraging, but we should also be attuned to the fact that prejudice and discrimination have their roots in our homes, and have to be actively confronted.
Expressing revulsion at these incidents – largely through soft options such as Facebook “likes” and 140 characters of distilled Twitter rage – is no longer enough. We have to consider what we are actively doing to deal with structural racism and inequality.
Interestingly, the proponents of transformation appear to be the loudest in admonishing Minister of Sport and Recreation Fikile Mbalula for his attempts at addressing inequality in our leading sporting codes. One gets the distinct impression that these voices are all for transformation – on their terms.
This begs the question: Why have we not paused as a nation to ask ourselves whether this presents an opportunity to address structural racism in sport in a more forceful and sustained way?
Debate and dialogue are all well and good as a way of understanding different viewpoints, but we should avoid acceding to those using race-based platitudes to make a point.
Fortunately, there has also been a measured response, looking beyond petty politicking to tackle related issues such as the limitations of sport at grass roots level and the obstacles involved in turning promising athletes into fully fledged professionals.
These dialogues, while difficult, have the potential to uncover the real issues impeding access for black athletes. The truth is that most who make it to national teams do so through former Model C schools.
This cannot be right. We cannot continue to limit or deny talented youth the opportunity of participating in sport and making our national teams on merit.
The reasons for quotas and transformation having to be enforced are all too clear when looking at pictures of our national cricket, rugby and netball teams. Yet this inequality, based primarily on race, does not stop at sport.
For many in the corporate world, having a white supervisor is the norm. In a recent City Press investigation, it was expected that one would have a white boss for the next 20 years, with a 50-50 split coming only in 2036, based on the current 68.9% of top management being white. Ministers have threatened businesses with penalties if they fail to apply the BEE codes.
Business often fails to acknowledge that transformation efforts in South Africa have reaped benefits by enabling corporate growth and global expansion, preferring to maintain the status quo. The persistent attribution of the slow pace of change to captains of industry can no longer be tolerated.
It seems reasonable to assume that should fines be imposed on businesses, the uproar would be even greater than the discontent expressed against Mbalula’s restrictions. Expect complaints about the potential effect it could have on companies, employment and the economy. We will be reminded that foreign investment will be compromised if we interfere with corporate boardrooms. We fail to realise that, ultimately, transformation is good for business.
It must be accepted that BEE remains an imperative. The stability of the country depends on a radical rerendering of the current landscape. Yet the issues will remain contentious. Top-down policy interventions that are narrowly focused on elites will do nothing to promote the equitable distribution of resources. The failure of BEE is one example of the failure of poorly implemented policy.
Take the findings of economist Thomas Piketty, who reported that union representation at board level of German companies contributed significantly to the mutual interest of business and labour. This is meaningful transformation.
The impetus for change should be bottom-up, and engage with what matters to communities and the marginalised.
Snide remarks and vacuous statements about transformation are ineffectual. It has become patently clear that things cannot remain the same; the Janus faces of government and business must be held to account as we move towards real and lasting change in the interests of moving the nation forward.
Hatang is CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation