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To BEE or to non-BEE

21 May 2012, 14:02

Oh, South Africa, how far have you fallen? I remember a time, not so long ago, where it was fashionable to refer to black people as Previously Disadvantaged Individuals. Then 'black' gained political and economy currency through 'Black Economic Empowerment'.

Now, however, the circle is complete, as I have recently seen two job adverts on Gumtree looking for 'non-BEE' candidates. It should be fairly obvious what that means, but it got me wondering ... if you want non-Black Economic Empowerment, does that mean you are pro-oppression?

Having benefited from a humanities degree, I did my time studying race politics. We all know that racial identity is ascribed to as much as it is prescribed, and those two factors leave it impossible to escape your race (at least, in a racialised country like South Africa).

However, I will maintain that the worst thing the government did post 1994 is retain racial identities. Right from the start, the very concept of "a rainbow nation" implied that South Africa is a country of many colours, and there was nothing better than those forms asking you to tick a racial group.

If the point of Black Economic Empowerment is to do what it says on the tin - empower black people economically - surely it doesn't need to be linked to race? A general Economic Empowerment strategy would serve just as well, build the same skills and provide the same RDP houses and basic infrastructure to South Africa's most vulnerable citizens.

I'm not naive enough to think that the government could have issued a press statement saying "We no longer recognise racial groupings" and that everything would have been solved magically. But just maybe, we wouldn't be in a place where people can talk about non-BEE candidates.

Give a builder a brick, and he'll build a wall. Give a racist race, and he'll keep on going unchecked. The government, as the highest form of political leadership in the country, is just playing somebody else's game by their own rules ... and losing.

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