Why consign our achievement to a wasteland?

2011-10-29 09:14

Sandile Zungu is among the people I’ve used as symbols of the new movers at the top of this special report.

These are people who define a new black wealth.

Patrice Motsepe is a platinum group metals king, a man with a Midas touch and Forbes Africa’s first cover star. He is also the richest person in South Africa, and he’s black.

Other stars here are Lira, who has defined a new sound; Patience Moloi-Motsepe, who is fashioning a new aesthetic; and Mel Bala, whose broadcasting career is my soundtrack of a generation who have done well.

Labour federation Cosatu’s general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi will possibly baulk at being included, but the bargaining tactics of his affiliated unions are so wily that he has pulled teachers, nurses, miners and metalworkers from the ranks of blue-collar workers into the middle classes.

Go to a trade union federation congress (especially of public sector workers) and you will see exhibition halls full of asset managers of various stripes eager to sign up members as new clients.

Leading businessman, Sandile Zungu, who is CEO of Zico Investments, has dismissed the Johannesburg Stock Exchange’s (JSE’s) black ownership study.

According to him, by including mandated investments (unit trusts, life policies and retirement annuities), the JSE has “delinked wealth creation from the issue of control”.

In other words, black power is impotent if you can’t vote with it and can’t determine the direction of companies. “The issue of control must never be removed from the calculation,” he says.

That’s true because control is a measure of power and the number of black directors of JSE-listed companies is dismal – the number of women of any colour even more so.

But if you want to measure wealth, then mandated investments are a legitimate measure. “There’s no reason to exclude it,” says Zungu, “people who have made money through pension funds, unit trusts and the like, sure, it’s wealth creation.”

Why do we not celebrate a new generation of wealth more fulsomely and why does the ANC not claim this?
“Serious wealth has been created. In part, BEE has worked. We should acknowledge huge strides: the number of black people who can travel overseas, who own farms, who drive posh cars and who are contributing to big causes. Let’s leverage on the success and celebrate it without saying ‘let them eat cake’.

“Context must never be forgotten. It must never be replaced by middle-class sophistication or you’ll be faced with a situation that the poor will speak on the streets,” says Zungu.

On Friday morning, I heard a victorious Julius Malema declare the day as the start of the march to economic freedom, a sort of new uhuru, if you like. It’s not true.

Creating a Ground Zero like this is smart for Malema’s own political fortunes, but disingenuous for it declares that nothing has been achieved in almost 20 years of freedom, which is simply not true.

The growth of a middle class ranks right up there with RDP housing, the national school nutrition programme, the extension of grants to 15?million South Africans, electrification, a solid Treasury and water extension as the sweeter fruits of freedom.

In fact, a Unilever Institute study shows how the middle class has been an important part of maintaining stability. It reads: “Responsibility for supporting family is also a part of black diamond lives. They spend an average of 15% of their personal income on extended family.”

Younger people spend as much as 20% of their incomes supporting their immediate and extended families. In addition, the new movers are on the move.

A study in 2007 showed that 12 000 households moved from the townships to the suburbs every month. Since then, the pace has slowed largely due to the economy, the National Credit Act, interest-rate hikes and fuel prices.

The instinct, when faced with the high levels of joblessness and poverty that beset most South Africans, is to wipe the slates clean and pretend nothing has worked because the challenges are still so manifold.

We have practically done so with BEE, consigning it to a political wasteland without an effective steward because the beneficiary pool is small. Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, who is in charge of BEE, is a communist for goodness sake!

Instead, the track changes we’ve put on black wealth and asset accumulation this week suggests more has gone well than we care to give credit for.

It would be wise to learn what has worked such as employment equity, decent work and the redistributive effect on extended families and local communities.

If we study hard and build on the successes, we have a real road to economic freedom.

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