DA must spell out stand on black economic empowerment
THE DA meets today to establish its attitude to employment equity and black economic empowerment.
It should not give undue weight to the views of Frans Cronje, the CEO of the Institute of Race Relations, an institution with a fine record. It did not in the past proclaim economic liberalism as the highest liberal value.
Judging by his writings, Cronje accords great weight to economic liberalism, a 19th century ideology which remains influential today.
Yet the South African liberalism of Alan Paton and Edgar Brookes, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Archbishop Denis Hurley, rooted in Christian social teachings, by no means ascribed such weight to economic liberalism, which in essence means radical economic freedom and the devil take the hindmost.
In the South African context, liberalism was rather more concerned with human rights and standing up for the poor and oppressed, while recognising the value of economic freedom – in its place.
I am not a member of the DA or any other party. Yet I do hope that the DA will not cloak itself in a mantle of ideological economic liberalism and proclaim this as the highest liberal value.
This ideology has no place in a country which has a widening gap between the rich and the poor on a scale which will ultimately endanger peace and good order.
Economic freedom is valuable and can help reduce the poverty gap as economic growth speeds up, according to the “trickle down” theory . Yet it would be wrong to accord to growth a weight which places it above more substantive efforts to reduce this gap.
It is another matter whether the current application of BEE – and the likelihood of the state adopting even more restrictive measures to nonblack small business – is appropriate. Or even substantially helping those for whom the policy is presumably intended.
The DA should launch a searching investigation into the current application of black economic empowerment in theory and practice. It should report as expedi- tiously as possible.
Decisions taken on a controversial issue by a clamorous party congress without such an investigation will not take us us much further. Maybe the DA has already undertaken and completed such an investigation and will report its finding.
The argument that legislation using race as a criterion is retrograde and unacceptable does not hold water. South Africa is not yet a non-racial society. Non-racialism is a goal and an ideal. We are not there yet. It is vital that we keep striving towards a non-racial society, while recognising we have a long way to go. Meanwhile, it is not possible to dispense entirely with the use of racial terminology.
Is the current application of BEE substantially helping those for whom it is primarily intended? There is a widespread and probably correct impression abroad that it is mainly benefiting a well-connected elite in the black community, rather than the supposed beneficiaries.
Under its Zuma leadership, the ANC has hardly struck out boldly to improve the lot of the poorest of the poor. Its current popular image is as a party which favours the rich elite in the black community.
This may well influence the election results in 2014. But the ANC’s history and its appeal as the party of liberation will still keep many people in the fold.
The DA’s position is that it supports rapid paths of promotion for disadvantaged South Africans – on the basis of offering opportunities.
As Helen Zille told a Black Management Forum debate on affirmative action recently: “We are ensuring people use that opportunity and the next door opens, and the next door opens and the next door opens…
“You’re arguing for rapid paths of promotion for disadvantaged South Africans. We say we support that on the basis of offering opportunities.
“(We are) ensuring people use that opportunity and the next door opens, and the next door opens and the next door opens.”
Zille said DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko did this very well.
She explained how Mazibuko had worked her way up in the party but admitted she would not have got to where she was at this stage if she was not black.
“I can tell you, if she was white, no matter how brilliant she was, she would have not been the leader of the opposition when she was less than 31 (years old),” Zille said.
“So obviously the fact that she was black was important… But if she was just black and not highly intelligent and not highly articulate and not a very good politician we wouldn’t have put her in there no matter what her colour.”
The same went for DA Gauteng premier candidate Mmusi Maimane. Zille said the DA had the most diverse leadership of any party in the country.
Shaw is a veteran commentator