Minority Report: Policing Black Incompetence

2014-09-09 14:15

While I have no illusions as to the storm that is about to descend on me for writing so frankly on such a sensitive subject, I remain hopeful that the dialogues the article generates will have a profound consequences on the future of South Africa. We live in a time and space where white people think they are better than black people, and black people want at any price to prove to white people that their thought life is just as rich, their intellect as powerful.

On Tuesday 02 September 2014, when the Constitutional Court ruled on the case of the former Lieutenant Colonel Renate Barnard and SA Police Service (SAPS). So divisive was the ruling that it reflected some of the old cracks haunting us as a nation. Our social fabric was tested once again as people took to social media to voice their approval or disapproval for the ruling. When the debates degenerated to mudslinging, the seeming indefensible position of black ineptitude came up again.

The SAPS case presented an opportunity to test the administrative fairness of Affirmative Action, without testing the merits of the practice. Basically, how fair is Affirmative Action, when there is only person that can do the job and they are white? In this case a post was advertised thrice, while a white candidate who was acting in the role was recommended to assume it, but the SAPS decide to rather withdraw it. How incredible is this case that it almost settles the argument, there are jobs black people can’t do, and only white people can.

An indictment on black people, further compounded by the fact that post-apartheid black South African society continues to be embarrassed by endless incidents of impropriety including acts of corruption, neglect or abuse of power and authority. There is no defense to the heavy cloud of corruption and impropriety surrounding the black leadership/managerial class. Black leadership have failed to rise above the sustained belief that Africans are genetically incapable of rising above centuries of bad press.

Correcting Perceptions

Our Social Structures in SA face a unique challenge stemming from 1994 transition. After the first national election, the buzz word was reconciliation. A foreign concept to this nation, even with our dialogues before the election. Reconciliation assumed that all South Africans had a common reference point for what would constitute a New Nation. An impossible idea also considering that as a nation we do not share a history of mutual conciliation and equal nationality. The lack of this common reference point has resulted in our mutual racial affinities defining us first, before our nationality. I am black before I am South African, much as I am white, before all things.

The resulting reality has a bearing on the momentum required by South Africa to achieve economic success. Firstly, blacks have ironically become the biggest paddlers of black ineptitude today stemming from their lack of confidence of the current leadership.  Secondly, the responsibility of white people in the achievement of a new great nation is not clear; as a result they judge with fear the intentions of any well meaning black leadership.

White people fear that black people are building an economic system anchored on white hate or jealousy and that the white males have no future in SA. This belies some of the stats that suggest employment absorption is around 80% for white South Africans and unemployment rate around 6%. This reflects the strength. The economic system in SA is creating economic opportunities for white people considering that Black people are only absorbed at 40% and unemployment rate is close to 40% within the racial group. Secondly the net-asset per capita for white people is R 953 000 compared to R 74 000 for blacks, which means the social structure is also protected by the wealth structure. White people have the Assets to protect the continued absorption of white people into the labour force despite all the fears. There is no existing legislature today, threatening this position.

A case for Transformation

Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) is a structured way of introducing new entrants, historically disadvantaged, with a need to break into the tightest network of historically built relationships. The biggest structural factor defining how business works, centers on past experience in big, formal business. Very few managers and directors in South Africa’s big businesses have traditionally reached their positions without years of work in the conglomerates, banks or other financial institutions. It has been rare to find a manager or director coming from smaller and medium sized business into these large firms, even though most small and medium businesses have also traditionally been dominated by white people.

Specialised in-house sub networks are evident in various industries where firms allocate management positions only to individuals with experience in the specific firm or its subsidiaries. Similar in-house networking is evident in the composition of many boards. The prominence of in-house relational connection is also evident in the way large firms have organized production and commercial processes.

Large South African firms have typically looked in-house for many services—from production through to retail finance. Owning key suppliers, financiers and retailers in a sector assured preferential relationships for these large firms—tight, controlled network relationships that minimized risk exposure. These relationships allowed capital concentration necessary for heavy industry development and fostered stability and standardization. Where the relationships were not established via direct ownership ties, they involved financing and preferential contracting mechanism.

Smaller downstream enterprises have faced major entry hurdles as a result of these preferential relationship structures, however in industries as variant as furniture, textiles, tourism and in the core metals and engineering sector. Large firms started unbundling in the 1990s and focused on core activities, but in so doing simply traded their horizontal conglomeration for a more intense vertical presence in many industries. A large proportion of mergers have been vertical, increasing control of dominant firms through production chains.

Large businesses have been able to establish favourable relationships at many levels, resulting in “closed” markets and “old boy networks” that have successfully kept out new, perhaps more efficient and competitive market entrants. This is major reason why SMMEs in South Africa contribute less to GDP and employment than they do in many other countries.

Large firms constitute less than 5 percent of South Africa’s corporations but account for 60 percent of the country’s GDP, while constituting more than 95 percent of corporate entities between 1990 and 2000, SMMEs employed only 55 percent of the country’s labour and generated only about 40 percent of total remuneration.

Can the perceived ineptitude stand in the way of progress

The task above needs to be a trade-off bargained on a table of mutual respect and compromise. The role expected from the Asset owning class is that they should share new opportunities with the historically disadvantaged class, without hoarding progress through fear. I can respect, why a competent government with less cases of impropriety might be a fundamental requirement on the table but it cannot as well preclude the contribution of white people into the national goals.

It was Fanon that said, “The basic confrontation which seemed to be colonialism versus anti-colonialism, indeed capitalism versus socialism, is already losing its importance. What matters today, the issue which blocks the horizon, is the need for a redistribution of wealth. Humanity will have to address this question, no matter how devastating the consequences may be.”

Countries chose to redistribute wealth for ethical, sociological, or economic reasons. Firstly, at an ethical level, any society needs to be altruistic with how it cares for its poor. Secondly, taxing the wealthy at higher rates will not affect their life chances, compared to taxing the less wealthy, particularly the lower and working classes, at equal rates. Thirdly, to prevent revolt on the part of poor, who may feel excluded or exploited. Fourthly, to ensure workers can buy goods and services that are produced, as house hold consumption has a bearing on the success of businesses and wealth creation. Fifthly, to even the playing field, because wealth breads wealth and rags to riches cases are a rarity. Lastly, to avoid corporate subsidies that are extreme and taxing the wealthy at higher rates is one way to offset these subsidies.

I pray for South Africa to raise levels of Black Governmental  and Business Leadership competence, and I equally hate that there is a stigma on Black competence  or excellence as a whole. The fundamental challenge to be acknowledged from both sides is that’s there will never be any progress until we start embracing each of roles in this journey.

Black people in South Africa need to embrace the quality of their heritage, like the white have. A pre-colonial past with 1200 years of farming and pottery, or a society of mining, manufacturing and trading in Limpopo dating 600 years before any European boat arrived, are a reflection of how independent and great black people have always been. The famous gold rhinoceros from Mapungubwe is a national icon and the inspiration for South Africa’s highest civilian award today.

A look at the recipients of the awards since 2002, shows a list of highly qualified and capable, white and black South Africans, who are able to dispel the notion that blacks are incompetent, and whites fear contributing to the future of this great nation.

South Africa Be Inspired, Lets all do our part!

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