Trans­form, or we’ll do it for you

CityPress - - Voices -

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

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