More BEE red tape will give lunatics more airtime

June 24 2011 at 06:00am – Business Report

The standard response to those who question so-called “broad-based” black economic empowerment (BEE) is for enraged ANC MPs to say that the questioners are motivated by an antagonism towards “transformation” at best and racism at worst. In other words, they argue, these people just want things to remain the same, with the economy pretty much in white hands.

It does not take a student of economics to realise that even arch-racists who believe in a siege economy – such as the failed Cape Party which garnered just 3 000 votes in the municipal election for a sort of white/coloured led Western Cape secession from deepest darkest Africa – simply will not be able to achieve this aim. That party was whipped at the polls.

With unemployment running at anything between 25 percent and 40 percent, depending how you define it, and youth unemployment at about 50 percent, obviously the economic recipe that we have employed since 1994 has not worked for about half of South Africa’s population.

For those on the political right who believe they can build a sort of wall stretching from Beaufort West, the Karoo town at the edge of the Western Cape, arcing over to Bitou (Plettenberg Bay) on the south coast and to Saldanha Bay on the west coast, are living in cloud-cuckoo land, to borrow a phrase from former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s lexicon.

We haven’t succeeded in building a fence between Zimbabwe and South Africa which has managed to stem the flood of disaffected people from Mugabeland.

Obviously the size of our poverty problem is immense. Thus one can understand the resonance that populists like ANC Youth League president Julius Malema have in the minds of the black youth. Ironically it is they who point out that BEE has not benefited the masses.

Thus, they believe that the only options lie in nationalising banks, mining and land, by which they probably mean farms rather than urban land.

The transformation that has occurred under ANC rule has seen a “super-BEE” class, whose conspicuous consumption has rivalled the stinking wealth of too many white people at the top.

I have little doubt that Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies really wants to do a good job of trade and industrial transformation.

He wants to see wealth spread, I am sure. He wants to see black small business flourishing, with the help of big business “incubation”. The latter will lose brownie points if they are not “incubating”.

The codes of good practice governing BEE, already complex, will become more so with various point additions and subtractions. Businesses already need armies of accountants to understand the red tape.

We have companies like EconoBEE, ironically a white-run company, making sense for other businesses of the requirements of the law.

Unfortunately, as we muddle through this complexity – when we actually need visionary leadership and simplicity – the ideas of lunatics on the Left and Right will gain currency.

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