On Easter Sunday, President Zuma’s risen glory was manifested to (and beheld by) hundreds of the faithful at the Twelve Apostles of Christ Church in Umgababa, where he passed himself off as the lamb that had been slain for championing “radical economic transformation”.
His genius lies in that up until the cabinet reshuffle, other political players had merely spoken of transformation. But there was no action prior to Zuma’s to measure it against. So transformation can be whatever Zuma says it is — including reckless cabinet reshuffles and credit ratings downgrades — because nobody has seen anything else.
A large part of how he has retained power was his abusing the most potent tool we had for transformation, Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE), to fund his crony capitalist network — while passing that off as his navigating the economic exclusions experienced by the black majority. And, given that nobody else had really done anything to relieve this exclusion, Zuma’s friends could call whatever he did “radical economic transformation”. Again, there was nothing else to measure it against.
If Mandela and Mbeki were sheltered by the cosy, respectable arms of white veneration, Zuma passes himself of as in the trenches with the ordinary black South African. When he is scapegoated by what he covertly describes as racist media for his sins, black people vicariously participate in his reproach and his navigation thereof. Sure, those black folk who saw Nkandla with their own eyes, put their finger in the wound in its side and saw it wasn’t photoshopped by said racist media, they voted IFP. But for many black people, marching against Zuma would mean marching with racism against one’s alternate universe self lifted up and crucified at the pinnacle of political power. For championing radical economic transformation.
If people’s perception is their reality, Zuma knows how to keep hope going.
There is a black marcher who can be mobilised against Zuma, though. He wears a red beret and is drawn by the EFF’s call for land, asset and business expropriation without compensation.
Do you see how the black majority, as a whole, faces no shortage of ideological suitors beating down its doors, offering it schemes for radical economic transformation? None of those ideas has to be particularly sophisticated or helpful because there’s nothing to compare them to. They also lack holistic stakeholder participation because most white people barely grasp their role in systemic racism, let alone contribute meaningfully to the discussion on transformation.
The suitors have multiplied. The other afternoon, the Department of Trade and Industry tweeted that we “need to broaden the base of participation in our economy, so for us black economic empowerment is imperative.” I’m not sure what the Department is thinking now or to what extent it will just continue serving the needs of the politically-connected few, but this isn’t the first time Minister Rob Haydn Davies has made noises on stricter BEE in the last few days.
Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba said at his Easter sermon that rich and poor need to negotiate trade-offs at an economic and land Codesa. UDM’s Bantu Holomisa also tweeted about the need for an economic Codesa.
But if the Department of Trade and Industry willingly offers improved BEE, the resultant narrative will be that the Zuma administration is sincerely pro-transformation. This will defuse much frustration against corrupt government officials. We’ll then have a transformed economy with deformed guardians, and therefore no economy at all.
And though we must speak of economic Codesas, we cannot do so in broad terms anymore. We just don’t have the time. We need a framework to work off of, and we need it yesterday.
When one of these suitors, be it Zuma, Malema or Davis, offers a way towards radical economic transformation, we must look for strings attached or the unintended consequences of starting too broad. We must be very careful.
If my analysis that Zuma has abused BEE to gain and keep power is correct, loosening his grip on the economy may be achieved if we, the people, push for both radical economic transformation and political reformation as I’ve been describing under the #ZumaTradeOff series. Let me unpack why I insist white people have to fight for economic transformation, and black people for political reformation.
In line with his narrative that he’s the scapegoat who bears South Africa’s racism, Zuma has been mocking [white] marchers who had never been seen marching until now. He says they’re racist and greedy. How white people could answer that is through lobbying, not so much for a change in politicians, but for a BEE that will stop enriching a select politically-connected few and will spread the wealth more equitably amongst black people instead. I’ll explain shortly why pictures of rich white people climbing into convertibles to protest Zuma just look bad.
So those white people could march for businesses to be incentivised to make ownership deals with black people whose net worths are beneath R10 million. Currently, the BEE incentive is to have any black person as an owner, but there are bonus points that disappear once that black owner has a personal net worth of R50 million or more. Real BEE would cut the line off at a much lower net asset worth. Hence the R10 million mark. It would also make a starter difference between the number of points earned for ownership by someone with a net worth below R10m as opposed to someone with a net worth above R10m. Real BEE would possibly not count any black person with a net asset value of over R10 million as black for BEE ownership purposes. Once you’re a millionaire, you do not need to be prioritised for economic empowerment.
That one change, alone, would shrug a lot of crony capitalists off of government’s procurement chain while freeing BEE to economically empower those who genuinely need economic empowerment.
In exchange for lobbying for this kind of BEE, more black people who’ve previously been sceptical of white motives could then work for political reformation. Where there is the sure promise of economic transformation, black self-interest says to cast out those elements that would abuse the means of transformation for corruption. With a stronger BEE, the corruption no longer takes money out of just white pockets but out of black ones as well. The BEE we have doesn’t put money into black people’s pockets so government corruption remains an abstract idea.
The #ZumaTradeOff, then, says black people will fight for an economy that works by getting rid of incompetent or unethical office-bearers, in exchange for white people fighting to ensure the resulting economy works for everyone.
Our mistake has been that we kept swapping these roles. The optics of having white people fight for the economy to work by protesting black politicians when there had been a reshuffle, or of black people ensuring it works in a transformed manner by protesting white captains of industry when there were calls for minimum wages, have never worked. They have traditionally underscored our differences.
Black politicians would be more likely to listen to black lobbyists (who would be greater in numbers) and white industrialists would be more likely to listen to white lobbyists (who are the majority of consumers and hold more senior positions in business). But you would need both, at the same time, to turn South Africa around.
What this means is that instead of taking a day off work to protest a corrupt government run mostly by black office-bearers, white people really need to go into work to ask why senior management is untransformed.
We need to literally walk a mile in each other’s shoes.
Why am I picking so hard on white people? As said already, they need a distinctly pro-black reason for marching if they are to not play into Zuma’s game. Until then, everything they do or say can and will be used against them in a court of law.
Also, BEE was brought in by white capitalists as an alternative to nationalisation and expropriation. BEE’s primary beneficiary is the white populace. Isn’t it in their interests, then, to ensure that BEE works? “How can it work if the blacks keep electing corrupt government officials?” many of these white people will ask.
To which I would reply, “Stop that.” Get out of that narrative. It is not in your self-interest to stay in it. Being right about this will not help in any case. You will only get corrupt government officials out of power if you ensure tomorrow’s economy is set to benefit everyone equitably. That’s on you.
How will we get black people to protect something they don’t have if we can’t get white people to use BEE to protect the interests they do have?
Not to put too fine a point of it, but if I were white in South Africa I would be discussing what this blog has been calling the #ZumaTradeOff like nothing else matters. If you’re not sure what it is, look up the hashtag and read other articles on it. Or contact me. A few people have, and I’ve only been to happy to respond to their case scenarios or clear up misunderstandings where the posts weren’t clear.
I respond faster on Twitter and Facebook than I do to blog comments. It’s just easier.
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