Kempton Park, November 20, 1999
Master of Ceremonies,
President of the BMF,
Mr Bheki Sibiya, Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to be with you this morning. If nothing else, this gives us the possibility to wish the Conference success and genuinely to say that I would be most interested to hear the outcome of your discussions.
Two days ago the “Cape Times” led with a story on black control of the economy under the headline “Black control on JSE down 50%” which they said represented the “lowest level since 1997.” I am certain that reference will already have been made by delegates, to the report from which this story derives.
This news might have somewhat dampened your spirits as you prepared to start this Conference. On the other hand, this bad news could, and probably has, served sharply to focus our attention on the challenges that face all of us as we struggle to achieve black economic empowerment.
From your documentation I can see that, correctly, you approach this empowerment in its widest possible meaning. My own remarks this morning will not be as wide ranging.
I will speak only to the question of the challenge of the formation of a black capitalist class, a black bourgeoisie.
I trust that the distinguished delegates know that I am a member of the African National Congress and that the important sounding titles which precede my name are a result of decisions taken by the ANC.
Just over two years from now, the ANC will be 90 years old. Throughout these decades, the ANC has had as one of its central tasks, if not the central task, the defeat and elimination of racism in our country.
This remains one of the strategic objectives of the ANC and therefore the government in which we serve, together with the IFP.
Even though, like myself, we might have moved out of our township houses into suburban residences, none of us who is black can avoid the daily recognition that racism continues to be a defining feature of what we justly call the new South Africa.
Consequently, as I stand here, one of the things I must say is that -because racism lives, the struggle continues! The distinguished delegates will remember that at some point during the life of our first democratic government, there was much ado about when the ANC might transform itself from a liberation movement into a party.
As so often happens in our country, because this seemed to be a clever thought, it became somewhat of a fad that each time anyone of us appeared in public, the clever people, or those who thought they were clever, would ask – when will you transform yourselves into a party! Personally, I never understood what it was that occasioned this question.
Frankly, I still do not understand both why the clever people thought they should pose this question and what, in any case, the question means.
To explain this, I have had to come to the conclusion that clearly, I cannot count myself among the clever people of South Africa.
Being less than clever, I would have assumed that the ANC would change its character once it had completed its historic mission – once the purposes for which it had been established had been accomplished.
Because racism lives, the struggle continues! Because of that, the ANC must remain what it has been for many decades, a movement for the elimination on the legacy of the system of racism, in the interest of all South Africans, whatever their race or colour or class or gender.
A critical part of that project, to realise the prescription in our Constitution, to create a non-racial society, is the deracialisation of the ownership of productive property in our country.
The “Cape Times” article to which I referred says that “black control on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange could possibly fall below one percent in the next few months…” Regardless of the manner in which such black control is measured, these figures make the important point that five years after the arrival of the democratic order, we have not made much progress, and may very well be marching backwards, with regard to the objective of the deracialisation of the ownership of productive property.
Clearly, something is not right.
Let me restate what I said earlier.
This morning, I will speak only to the question of the challenge of the formation of a black capitalist class, a black bourgeoisie.
This is, and must be, an important part of the process of the deracialisation of the ownership of productive property in our country.
Ours is a capitalist society. It is therefore inevitable that, in part -and I repeat, in part – we must address this goal of deracialisation within the context of the property relations characteristic on a capitalist economy.
As part of the realisation of the aim to eradicate racism in our country, we must strive to create and strengthen a black capitalist class.
Because we come from among the black oppressed, many among us feel embarrassed to state this goal as nakedly as we should.
Our lives are not made easier by those who, seeking to deny that poverty and wealth in our country continue to carry their racial hues, argue that wealth and income disparities among the black people themselves are as wide as disparities between black and white.
Simply put, the argument is that the rich are rich whether they are black or white. The poor are poor, whether they are black or white. In other words, so it is being suggested, the issue of the disparity in wealth is purely a class question, as it would largely be in a country such as Germany, and not an element of the national question as well.
All this frightens and embarrasses all those of us who are black and might be part of the new rich. Accordingly, we walk as far and as fast as we can from the notion that the struggle against racism in our country must include the objective of creating a black bourgeoisie.
I would like to urge, very strongly, that we abandon our embarrassment about the possibility of the emergence of successful and therefore prosperous black owners of productive property and think and act in a manner consistent with a realistic response to the real world.
As part of our continuing struggle to wipe out the legacy of racism, we must work to ensure that there emerges a black bourgeoisie, whose presence within our economy and society will be part of the process of the deracialisation of the economy and society.
Accordingly, indeed, the government must come to the aid of those among the black people who might require such aid in order to become entrepreneurs.
This principle has already been established and is in practice already being acted upon. I refer here to the fact of the new tender and procurement policies the government is following, the establishment of the National Empowerment Fund as well as Ntsika and Khula. And yet the question is still being raised that the government should come in to help the black entrepreneur.
For instance the Cape Times article to which we have referred quotes a black business person as saying:
“The government has to come in here. If you look at other countries like Malaysia and Singapore, the empowerment movement was helped by the government, both in terms of funding and the opportunities. One way or another, the government has to supply some of the funding and persuade financial institutions in this country to invest in black economic empowerment. ”
The question this proposal evokes is – what kind of activity is the government being asked to fund? For instance, is it being suggested that the government should lend money to some black consortia to enable these to buy a minority of shares in as many blue chip companies as possible, of course making sure that this money was made available at concessionary rates? If this is what is being suggested, the question would have to be answered as to how the setting up of such holding companies helps the fundamental project of black economic empowerment.
In the quotation we have just read, reference is made to Malaysia.
I am certain that those of us who have interacted with the Malaysian business community will have realised that they see themselves as part of the process of the socio-economic transformation of their country, including the upliftment of the Malay people, the central reason why the government intervened to help specifically Malay entrepreneurs.
I am certain that many of us present here would be aware of a least some instances when black business people have been quite happy to lend their faces to white owners of Capital so that the latter can appear to satisfy black empowerment requirements in government tenders. We would also know of instances where black business people have behaved in a manner which clearly says that they believe that the first charge on the corporate revenues is not the expansion of the business therefore the economy, but the acquisition of more personal wealth such as a grand house, a grand car and a grand salary. Indeed, it is to meet this objective that some are ready to rent themselves out to white business people to win government tenders.
I am certain that all of us would agree that we would exclude such people from among those we would describe as activists for black economic empowerment. And thus far we come back to the questions that have been dogging us for years now – what is black economic empowerment and how shall we realise it?
I am glad to see Comrade Cyril Ramaphosa here today and look forward to hearing what he will say. Earlier this year, before the elections we agreed that we would meet – government and black business to assess the whole project of black economic empowerment and try to find ways to move forward in a meaningful fashion. The work he and his colleagues are doing, about which he will speak this morning, is critical to that assessment, which must also see to answer the question -how do we promote the formation of a black bourgeoisie which will itself be committed and contribute to black economic empowerment, broadly understood? If this conference helps us to meet this challenge, it will have made a very important contribution to our struggle for the creation of a non-racial South Africa.