In BEE is not the enemy (City Press, August 12 2018), Mondli Makhanya paid the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) a justly deserved compliment, though perhaps without meaning to.
He correctly said the IRR is “purist” in its liberalism; we are evangelical when it comes to our principles.
Four are particularly important – treating citizens as individuals, not as members of racially defined blocs; property rights; the market economy; and the rule of law.
We differ sharply, however, on the conclusions to be drawn from our commitment to these principles.
Makhanya wrote: “Each time the DA tries to crawl out of its cave of narrow liberalism, the IRR drags it right back in. It is the institute’s proud role to prevent the DA from stepping boldly into the real South Africa.”
He took issue with the IRR’s stance on race and empowerment, dismissing our claim that it has been a “dismal failure” that “has doomed millions to the despair of unemployment and has serially enriched a politically connected elite”, along with the IRR’s “naive view that you can address the past without referring to race”. This was like “hiring an atheist to exorcise demons from your home”.
In fact, liberalism is the least narrow of South Africa’s options, as it promises all people the substantive freedom of real choices in how they live and think.
This is the surest path to “stepping boldly into the real South Africa” where – after 25 years of policy that has, in the main, failed them – millions still await the “better life for all” promised in 1994.
The IRR’s stance on BEE, founded on viewing people as individuals, is shaped by research showing how poorly BEE has performed.
Of South Africa’s 9.3 million jobless people, 6 million are under 35 and 8.3 million are black, the black unemployment rate being four to five times higher than that of white people, because of the skills deficit.
Read against the labour market absorption rate – 75.6% for those with a degree, falling to 50.3% for those with matric, and just 34%, on average, for those with anything less – it’s clear the obstacle is the failure of the substantive empowerment only better education can provide. Yet, just less than half the number of children who enrol in grade 1 will make it to grade 12 and only 28% of people aged 20 or older have completed high school.
Focusing on the race of the millions still locked out of the economy – rather than the disadvantages holding them back – is not helping.
By contrast, our economic empowerment for the disadvantaged model would directly address education, skills and jobs, the very things our polling consistently shows most South Africans want.
Black people will be the primary beneficiaries of this model, offering them the best route out of the cave of regressive racial nationalist policymaking into a sunlit future.
This is our historical mission and one from which we will never depart.
As for exorcising demons, we are indebted to a friend for pointing out that an atheist would not exorcise demons from your house, but tell you there’s no such thing as demons – only the problems of your own making.
- Morris is the head of media at the Institute of Race Relations, Johannesburg