I have been agonising a lot about the demise of BEE in our economic discourse.
A few disturbing incidents have caught my attention – the noise being made about the collapse of the administrations of Tshwane and Johannesburg, as well as an old example in the Cape Town and Nelson Mandela Bay metros, are worth noting.
Starting with the City of Gold. The noise about the appointment of Afrirent to manage the city’s massive fleet is highly disturbing, to say the least.
For years, a lily-white company, such as Avis, has had its evergreen contract renewed without any noises being made.
No one referred to the relationship the owners of that company had with the political elite.
No one questioned the BEE credentials of that company, if they even existed in any serious way.
Then, enter a black company with an opportunity to change the spending patterns of the city and we were told how much of an EFF front this company was and how many of its leaders donated money to the EFF, and we were fed conspiracy theories about how its appointment was horse trading of some sort between former mayor Herman Mashaba and the EFF.
All of these allegations have been denounced in the book The Accidental Mayor, in which Mashaba’s story is told.
This example highlights a serious tendency in the debate about BEE implementation in our metros.
There is a reluctance to introduce new players that are not beholden to political interests.
This is widespread. In Tshwane, when GladAfrica was brought in to manage the city’s infrastructure programmes, the same controversy resulted.
The EFF in Tshwane was left facing a R12 billion corruption scandal.
The DA administration should have known better than to displace ANC-aligned companies that had been favoured in that city forever without being meticulous about it.
In Cape Town, the same cynical situation befell Patricia de Lille, whose only sin was to ignore a company owned by former DA leader Tony Leon in relation to the establishment of desalination plants when the city was facing a debilitating drought.
Suddenly, we were told how corrupt she was. Until then, she had been the poster girl for the DA’s clean governance.
The Nelson Mandela Bay metro stories are enough to block the sun.
When the DA assumed power there, huge contracts with service providers that were seen to be ANC aligned were displaced in the middle of service delivery projects without that administration thinking twice.
These examples demonstrate that political machinations are at the heart of the failure of BEE from political right and left.
It is clear that such failure will persist until political alignment ceases to be a criterion for empowerment, and until black companies are allowed to contest for business in the economy without their appointment being viewed through the lenses of those who are in power.
Should a company like Afrirent be disadvantaged merely because it is seen to be aligned to the EFF?
Should its alignment even be considered at all?
So what if it is indeed aligned with some or other political force … does this reflect on its ability to manage a multibillion-rand contract or is this linked to future possible political funding and favours?
It is clear that this Afrirent controversy, and similar examples in other metros, indicates a serious impediment to real BEE.
BEE has clearly been turned into a patronage network tool by politicians.
This should not come as a surprise. When BEE was born, politicians who had no idea how to run anything became millionaires overnight.
They owned 25% of businesses that took decades to build without the sweat and the blood that was required.
This tendency was the first mistake of BEE.
The amendment of the law to make the regime broad-based seems to have failed to mitigate the attitude of entitlement where BEE is concerned.
What is more concerning is the failure to implement a progressive version of BEE that gives all South Africans an opportunity without political favours.
The Covid-19 coronavirus crisis has exposed a lack of vision for the implementation of BEE.
Government has been exposed to be lax in using this instrument to empower its own people, and now wants to resort to blunt discrimination, as was seen in the debate about whether those who were not empowered would have access to relief funds.
This is a lazy approach to induce compliance when there has been a consistent failure to make BEE count when it matters.
It seems to me that the lack of BEE is a result of being our own worst enemies by making everything about party politics.
One hopes this will reduce in future as public representatives become less beholden to political parties and more accountable to the people.
The economic opportunities must not be the preserve of those who are politically connected.
Tabane is the author of Let’s Talk Frankly, and is a TV and radio anchor
Is the discourse about BEE over? Is BEE still relevant? Who should be getting the jobs and why?
SMS us on 35697 using thekeyword BEE and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50. By participating, you agree to receive occasional marketing material