DA must spell out stand on black eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - COMMENT - GER­ALD SHAW

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

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