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President Jacob Zuma is selling the country off in bits and pieces. We could return the favour by making him part of a trade-off between black people who want white people to share economic power, and white people who want black people to share political power.
Unless both sides can agree on a trade-off, fast, President Jacob Zuma will use his power to destroy both.
I wish this weren’t about race. But black social media users have accused white people of protesting only when Zuma jeopardises the economy, but never over high tuition fees, minimum wages, or other matters that impact on black people whose economic worlds are permanently in junk status.
Likewise, a lot of white people say if black people don’t join the call for new leadership, those issues won’t be solved even if white people tried to help solve them.
Each of these “sides” has to give something to get something back. Let’s call this the #ZumaTradeOff.
Underlying Zuma’s grip on our economy is the lie that he is working to bring about radical economic transformation. But a transformation consultant with years in the game believes Zuma is working for the opposite of what he has promised.
The alternative to BEE is “expropriation without compensation” after Zuma solidifies his grip on power and further wrecks the economy. If South Africans do not fight to take Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) back from croney capitalism, we will have nothing left to fight for. This legislation hasn’t failed; it hasn’t been tried. Instead, it’s been abused by the politically connected.
At a layman’s primer on BEE by BEE Novation, consultant Lee du Preez spoke of what he felt was a kink in the Act — its New Entrant provision. A company that takes on a black owner with a net worth of less than R50-million may get bonus BEE points for enabling a “new entrant” to the economy a greater level of participation. Once that person’s net worth exceeds R50-million, the company continues getting up to full points for transformed ownership; they just don’t get bonus points.
For obvious reasons, du Preez felt using BEE to make people millionaires 50 times over was a bit like using a charity organisation created to uplift the poor to enrich a chosen few. Once a person’s net worth exceeds R50-million — heck, R10-million! — he should no longer be considered black for BEE purposes because he’d be wealthier than the average white South African. The abuse of this high “new entrant” threshold, among other provisions, had led to people distrusting BEE; specifically, it had led to black people believing the slowness of economic transformation was white people’s fault, and white people believing Zuma’s political stronghold was black people’s fault. Divided, we are conquered and we cannot mobilise like Pravin Gordhan said to.
The fault line in both instances is that Zuma uses tools like BEE to fund a patronage network beholden to himself instead of accelerating real economic transformation. The reasons for racial mistrust were two sides of exactly the same coin. You can’t get rid of the one without getting rid of the other. Hence, #ZumaTradeOff.
Others have spoken of this. While Wilmot James was the Shadow Minister of Trade and Industry, he observed that the DTI would “increase the threshold of the value of equity previously held to qualify as a ‘new entrant’ from R20-million to R50-million”:
“The DA believes that steps must be taken to ensure that B-BBEE does not become a tool for elite enrichment — we therefore argued for lowering the threshold in the definition of ‘new entrants’ to R10-million and increasing the points that can be earned by involving new entrants and workers in empowerment transactions.”
Put differently, imagine disaster survivors being triaged for emergency medical assistance. How would we feel if the medical service personnel knew some of the victims personally, and decided to first give those spa treatments and pedicures before moving on to patients who urgently needed life-saving help?
The purpose of medical emergency intervention is to get people fixed enough so they can get their own spa treatments in the future. BEE’s purpose is to give black people a leg-up so they can someday go on to making their millions. Without a cap on the wealth an individual can make through BEE deals, we’ll never get around to benefiting those who aren’t politically connected. Someone with a net asset value of R49-million isn’t a new entrant; he’s an Ancient of Days.
What we have under Zuma’s watch is Bribe-Based Black Elite Enrichment. Zuma is not the way, the truth and the life without which none may come to radical economic transformation. He’s the broad and crowded gate to economic hell for black, Indian, coloured and white people.
Very simply put, if more black people step up to work for Zuma’s removal from the presidency, we’ll have an economy that works. If white people step up to drive lobbying for revisions to BEE, we’ll have an economy that works for black people as well.
One practical way this can play out is in the lead-up to Parliament’s no-confidence vote on Tuesday the 18th of April. We must publicise and discuss the #ZumaTradeOff to one another – and then fight for it like our country’s future depends on it. Because it does. We can’t win unless we’re clear on what we all stand to win.
By the 18th, our Members of Parliament must have heard of the scandal: in return for selling the country, our whole president would have been sold off to political slaughter for a pro-forma 30 pieces of silver he isn’t worth. We must not retreat until those members of parliament vote accordingly.
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The hashtag is #ZumaTradeOff
That book is almost done working on me