Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) and its later, adapted incarnation, Broad Based Economic Empowerment (BBBEE), has largely been made a mockery of by established businesses thumbing its collective noses at the government and society as a whole.
Earlier this month, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant launched the Commission for Employment Equity’s annual report‚ which showed that top posts in the country are still held by white men.
She was reported to have said: “We challenge those who believe that the Employment Equity and affirmative action policies have gone past their sell-by date to read this commission’s report carefully and check‚ if in all honesty‚ it is really the time to scrap Employment Equity and affirmative action.
“Do they truly believe that we have achieved what the Employment Equity Act was set out to do?”
Let’s just remind ourselves about the aim of BBBEE: it is a form of economic empowerment initiated by the South African government in response to criticism against narrow-based empowerment instituted in the country during 2003 and 2004.
Nefarious activities by companies who continue to window-dress at the expense of South Africa’s socio-economic progress will be tackled head-on, no matter how long it takes.
Economic redress is a non-negotiable, as is Broad Based Economic Empowerment. That companies are using unwitting black employees shows how low they will stoop to protect their economic hegemony and their entrenched sense of superiority.
Last year acting BBBEEE commissioner Zodwa Ntuli was quoted as saying that there are too many companies that are using black employees by putting them forth as stakeholders without their knowledge as a form of fronting in order to get a higher BEE ranking. The commissioner rightly points out that this kind of action undermines transformation. One could add to that by saying these companies are against nation-building.
Ntuli’s work needs to be supported and will be supported by the government – her office is tasked with making sure companies comply with the act, not just in name or in spirit, but what its aforementioned aim spells out.
Transformation in all spheres of South African life is for the benefit of all citizens. The democratically elected government, 21 years into its tenure, is constantly reminded that a little over two decades should have been enough for it to have completely transformed South Africa.
Maybe it is time companies in the Republic are held to the same standard and expectation. The 17th Commission for Employment Equity (CEE) report showed that among other things, 68.5 percent of top management positions were occupied by whites, 14.4 percent by Africans, 8.9 percent by coloureds and 3.4 percent by foreign nationals.
Men occupied 78 percent of top management positions and women 22 percent, with people with disabilities constituting 1.2 percent of top management. Whites occupied 72 percent of the positions in the private sector and Africans 73.2 percent of the positions in the public sector.
White people held 58.1% of senior management positions‚ black people held 22.1%‚ Indian people held 10.6%‚ Coloured people held 7.7% and foreign nationals held 1.4%. In the professionally qualified category, 41.5% of positions are occupied by black people‚ 37.5% by white people‚ 9.7% by Coloured people‚ 8.5% by Indian people and 2.8% by foreign nationals.
Technically skilled positions were mostly held by black people at 60.2%‚ followed by white people at 20.8%‚ Coloured people at 11.5%‚ Indian people at 5.8% and foreign nationals at 1.8%.
Semi-skilled labour positions are mostly held by black people at 76.1%. At the unskilled level, 83.2% of positions are held by black people. Last year’s CEE Report unsurprisingly showed that the pace of transformation was, to say the least, pedestrian, especially at the upper levels of management where whites (especially males) still dominate.
This, despite, the common misconception that whites are being pushed into the margins by their black counterparts because they are being forced to do so because of legislation.
But the numbers don’t lie – there are nearly 70 percent (68.9 percent) white people at top management level, more than six times their Economic Active Population (EAP). Indians at 8.6 percent have a representation of three times more than their EAP at this managerial level.
But the opposite is true for black South Africans who come in at a paltry 14.3 percent, while coloured people are at 4.7 percent – both these demographics are clearly under-represented in relation to their EAP.
The report states that the top management level in the public sector is mostly populated by black South Africans, while white people are mostly concentrated in the private sector.
The CEE said the South African economy remains white male dominated in most sectors of the economy. The CEE Report citing figures from Statistics South Africa show that black South Africans account for 77.4 percent of EAP; coloureds 10 percent; Indians 2.7 percent and whites 9.9 percent.
(The Commission for Employment Equity is a statutory body established in terms of Section 28 of Employment Equity Act (No 55 of 1998) whose role is to advise the Minister of Labour on any matter concerning the Act, including policy and matters pertaining to the implementation towards achieving the objectives of the Act).
The report’s aim is to gauge the status of employment equity in South Africa and how the country has progressed in its workplace transformation. Clearly progress has been slow.
The CEE’s head Tabea Kabinde was quoted as saying that a ‘culture of exclusivity’ existed in the workplace and this was one of the challenges to employment equity. She said their analysis proved there were ‘push-back’ factors – essentially an unwillingness by those holding the reigns to change their way of thinking in terms of transformation.
But the government will no longer tolerate non-compliance by companies – at the time of the report’s release Last April, the Labour Ministry gave companies six months to get their houses in order or face legal consequences. We cannot expect societal shifts and stability without real economic change and parity across communities. It is plain for all to see that blacks and women are still getting the short end of the stick from companies who continue to flout employment equity legislation.
Institutionalised discrimination continues to hold back real transformation in companies as mentalities and attitudes have not moved on by all that much after more than two decades of democracy. Companies need to realise that BBBEE is not just a piece of legislation that they are expected to comply with, but rather a transformational imperative that will, in the long run, make sense for their bottom line. Surely the advancement of a truly inclusive, in the practical/ pragmatic sense, would yield greater economic stimulation. The inability for companies to see this speaks to their lack of interest in sustainable economic development in our country.
Therefore, Broad Based Economic Empowerment has to be enforced and is here to stay. Economic apartheid cannot and must not be allowed to continue.