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Black South Africans can learn much from Afrikaners

Zuma & Malan, birds of a feather?
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In their quest to achieve affirmative action via black economic empowerment (BEE), black South Africans can learn much from the Afrikaner community – there are some negative, but mostly positive lessons.

That said, however, some Afrikaner-dominated organisations will also do well to remember their development history in full context when they make claims about reverse discrimination.

Consider the following report on a speech made in the South African parliament: “He declared that the government had to develop the country's resources and industries in order to increase its income, while assuring a more even spread of wealth and eliminating parasitic exploitation. He wanted greater government control over the economy, with regard to banking and credit provision in particular.”

If your guessed that it is a report on a recent speech by President Jacob Zuma, you just might close, but actually wrong.    

It was a 1943 report on a speech made by Dr D.F. Malan, leader of the then official opposition National Party (NP), when introducing a motion in parliament – five years before he became prime minister after the NP won the 1948 general election.

The familiarity to the ears of the present generation of voters, increases when the report goes on to state: “Land, that lay fallow because it was being held for speculation purposes, had to be distributed to landless farmers and the state had to accept responsibility for creating employment, he argued.

“Urban slums had to be eradicated through state housing projects and a national health service had to be established. He also appealed for an improvement in welfare services and pensions.” (Our emphasis.)

In fact, Afrikaner Economic Empowerment (AEE) was largely the platform on which the NP campaigned for the 48 election. In the years following on the election, the NP embarked on an extensive affirmative action programme to empower especially the white Afrikaner community.

Malan however included English-speaking South Africans, who put “South Africa first,” in his definition of an Afrikaner.

While accepting blacks as permanent residents, it excluded – and effectively exploited them – for economic empowerment programmes on many fronts and “national unity” initiatives, from state enterprises and finance institutions like the Industrial Development Fund.

Evaluation

In an insightful study towards a Master of Business Administration-degree, titled “Afrikaner economic empowerment (1890-1990) and lessons for black economic empowerment,” Mzamo Masito amongst other, concludes, about the AEE-processes: “AEE economic empowerment can be best summed up  by one of the  BEE experts as an: ‘integrated programme that excluded blacks, but truly linked to a National vision and filtered right through to all spheres of development such as education, health, language, culture, symbols etc. and (the) BEE process lacks this fundamental ideology’.”

Masito’s study also indicates that the present BEE programme does not qualify as a well-planned, nationally integrated human capital development plan.

However, for the sake of balance, one needs to contextualise AEE and BEE (or BBBEE – Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment, as it is now called) holistically in its own historic environment.

For one, AEE played out in an environment of closed national economies and an era when sanctions forced the South African state to be self-sufficient.

It started off when mineral resources were still largely un-exploited, industrialisation was in full swing and modern physical infrastructure still largely absent.

Whites were less than 10% of the population, but with political power in its hands, able to exclude from and exploit blacks to render economic and human capital development programmes affordable.

BEE on the other hand has to be managed in a globalised free market economy, a diverse democratic political environment and in the midst of a new industrial revolution in which manual labour is much less in demand and new skill sets are called for.

Also read: A wave of innovation is hitting economies globally

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Positive lessons

The NP and its support base, mostly poor white Afrikaners, succeeded in mobilising the broad community in a network of supporting organisations to create a culture of self-help, co-operatives (like KWV) and, -savings (that could be mobilised as capital for enterprises like the Rembrandt Tobacco Corporation, insurance houses like Sanlam, financial institutions like Volkskasbank (now ABSA/Barclays) and Federale Volksbeleggings.

Most important, however, is the efforts that went into ensuring quality education to create an Afrikaner middle class and intellectuals.

According to the Masito study, one of the key things that went wrong with BEE programmes to date is that a “few people, possessing political capital via their connection to the ANC, but with no economic capital, have been winning the majority of contracts and tenders.”

In 2004 the Department of Trade and Industries reported that 72% of BEE deals, worth R80 billion went to only six BEE companies and Masito reports: “BEE exists to enable blacks as a collective to catch up with Whites (Afrikaners and English) and earn their respect. However, the purpose of BEE has mutated in a project to advance the black elite.”

We think

It is unrealistic to expect that an element of race-politics can, or will, disappear from any BEE policy or programme. Neither can it be purely based on an individual basis, as seems to be the suggestion of Solidarity’s request to the Human Rights Commission to investigate BEE and affirmative action legislation – suggesting it must also focus on an individual’s socio-economic circumstances.

We cannot wish-away the fact that AEE was, in things like job reservation legislation, nothing short of “boere affirmative action.”

And, black business men and woman must also be empowered to help uplift their communities, calling for some element of preferential treatment. However, on that font it is clear that the BEE project has gone horribly wrong, as the 2004-stats quoted above illustrate.

President Zuma’s latest promise that government would, through regulations and programmes, use the state’s buying power to empower small enterprises, rural township enterprises and to promote local industrial development, is to be welcomed.

However, unless it is underpinned by a “well-planned and managed, national and communities integrated human capital development plan,” it will not only fail – it will edge the country ever closer to social upheaval.

Maybe the time has come to rope in some seasoned AEE-experts, while they are still around, for a lekgotla to help map the way forward to inclusively uplift all the people of the country.

At the very least, Mr Zuma and his closest advisers should study the work done by Mzamo Masito in detail.

by Piet Coetzer

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