DA leaders pick sides amid confusion over party's decision to ditch BEE policy

The factional war within the DA has intensified, this time over the party's position to dump what it calls a "disastrous" broad-based black economic empowerment (B-BBEE) policy. 

There seemed to have been a social media meltdown over the decision, with senior party leaders attacking each other and disagreeing on public platforms over whether the party had actually taken a decision to scrap the empowerment policy aimed at redressing past inequalities. 

News24 broke the news on Saturday that the DA's federal council had decided to ditch black economic empowerment (BEE), claiming the policy was "just not working".

Read more here: DA's highest decision making body ditches BEE, saying the policy is not sustainable

The party's head of policy, Gwen Ngwenya, confirmed that the DA's highest policy decision-making body took the decision in July. However, federal council chairperson James Selfe disputed the decision.

In a desperate bid to clear up the confusion Ngwenya and Selfe issued a joint statement saying the policy had "dismally failed" and "doomed millions to the disparity of unemployment and enriched the politically connected elite".

The two acknowledge the country's history that continues to disadvantage the majority. They also commit to advancing empowerment for the disadvantaged but argue for a society in which race is not a factor when it comes to opportunities.

Environment social governance index proposed

"We have argued that empowerment policies need to become less race-focused over time, as the policies begin to do their work in redressing the legacy of apartheid," said Selfe and Ngwenya.

News24 is in possession of the 152-page document titled, Vula: The 'open' economy, Open for business. The document was presented by Ngwenya at a federal executive committee where economic policies were discussed, in a bid to sharpen the party's offering to South Africans ahead of the 2019 national elections. 

The paper is explicit that the party should dump BEE and replace it with an environment social governance (ESG) index that removes race from the score card.

"In addition [the DA] will scrap the B-BBEE policy and replace it with an ESG empowerment index backed by a pact of inclusive empowerment," the document states.

It also states that quotas currently in place should be dropped and that B-BBEE has created insiders and outsiders.  

"DA empowerment policy would seek to be comprehensive by recognising a wide range of voluntary environmental, social and governance disclosures and interventions, of which ownership schemes and diversification could be a part, but with no minimum requirements," the document states.

Public spat

The paper further states that "due to our belief that people are individuals, and are not racial or gender envoys, diversity is not equated with demographic representivity".

"Equality of opportunity, i.e. lowering barriers to entry and a receptive attitude towards difference will give rise to diversity that is a product of people's choices, rather than a product of predetermined targets or quotas."

News24 spoke to at least five members of the party's highest decision-making body and all had a different interpretation of the July meeting that discussed the paper. 

At least three sources said that the paper was adopted for further discussion, with two stating that the meeting never decided that this would be the party's new policy.

Also read: BEE policy: DA federal chairperson disputes claims by head of policy

A public spat broke out on social media with some party members, including MP Phumzile van Damme, echoing the sentiments of the party's federal council chairperson, Selfe, on social media and denouncing the news reports as "fake news", despite Ngwenya insisting that the party had dumped BEE.

Van Damme was backed by Eastern Cape provincial leader Nqaba Bhanga who said Ngwenya's comments did not reflect a decision taken by the federal council, insisting it was merely a policy proposal and not a party position.

'Suicidal' move

However, numerous party members including Gavin Davis, Belinda Bozzoli, Mike Waters and Michael Cardo did not agree with them.

"Great news, an important step forward. BEE has not worked to empower vast majority of black South Africans. The DA is working on a new alternative policy framework that will," tweeted Davis. 

Bhanga told News24 it would be "suicidal" for the DA to dump BEE.

"I disagree with her [Ngwenya] because for more than 300 years black people have been excluded in South Africa from the economy, therefore when there is a discussion to downplay that [race], you are making a fundamental mistake because black people remain excluded," he said. 

Bhanga said the paper was adopted for further discussion by provinces but the policy was never accepted. 

"Giving an RDP house to a black person is an opportunity but does not take us forward in terms of addressing issues of ownership and wealth. Black people in the economy are still excluded therefore the DA will be making a mistake if it turns back on redress. That is why I vehemently oppose her views," he said.

'It's not fair what they are doing'

DA Gauteng MPL Khume Ramulifho told News24 that B-BBEE remained relevant as the country needed to deal with inequality, poverty and unemployment. 

"Skills transfers, job opportunities, wealth creation and development must remain high on the agenda. This must be implemented and not only target those who are politically connected but improve the life of an ordinary person," Ramulifho said.

Another national leader who sits in the federal executive was adamant that a decision had been taken to drop BEE.

"We have decided against BEE. My recollection of how it happened is similar to what [Ngwenya] said," he said.

Another source who also sits on federal executive said Selfe was "wrong about the policy".

"I was there, it was discussed. [Ngwenya] was given the mandate. I cannot work out why there is backtracking now," the source said.

"It's not fair what they are doing to [Ngwenya]," the source who did not want to be named added.

*This story has been amended to reflect that Khume Ramulifho is an MPL, and no longer the Gauteng DA chair

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