Many of the activists, who earned the enviable title of “comrades in business”, are being accused of perpetuating apartheid-era inequalities, rather than helping to uplift the poor black masses.
“There are no comrades in business,” said Adam Habib
, political commentator and deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Johannesburg. “But there are businessmen with political connections.”
Many invested in all sorts of “sin industries” and have failed the employment equity project, say analysts.
In the end, greed and lavish living got the better of many of these “comrades”, an informal poll conducted by The New Age among prominent stakeholders and observers has revealed.
And, in another major indictment, the dominant view is that they must take responsibility for the gloomy equity picture evident in recently released data. This includes Business Unity SA’s (Busa) transformation survey released last week, as well as the latest employment equity commission report.
Ajay Lalu, executive of BEE consulting firm Black Lite, said: “People have focused on making money and forgot the transformation agenda.”
It has been 18 years since South Africa started producing what could have been a special class of capitalists, people who would infuse a socially friendly face into the way business was traditionally done.
Instead, many of these individuals hitched a ride on a rich business bandwagon with the broad based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) ticket, which has made many of them fabulously rich.
Many have made obscene sums of money that far outstrip the benefits derived from the BBBEE agenda they claim to represent.
And many were yet to justify the benefits they had derived from the state and the BEE programme, said Habib, adding that it was “fair” to conclude that the resources they have drawn could have been better used.
in the development of small businesses and other broad social development projects.
Yet many companies continue to indirectly ride on the back of the “comrades in business” concept. Prominent examples include Kagiso Trust Investment (KTI), Thebe Investment Corporation, Cyril Ramaphosa’s Shanduka Group, Saki Macozoma’s Safika Holdings, Iqbal Surve’s Sekunjalo Holdings, Tokyo Sexwale’s Mvelaphanda Holdings and Hoskens Consolidated Investments (HCI), which is led by former trade unionists Marcel Golding and Jonny Copelyn.
Trade unions like Nehawu and other civil society organisation have also launched investment entities.
KTI and Thebe are prominent pioneers as political activists venturing into business. Both entered the landscape in the pre-1994 era.
If transformation was simply about putting a few individuals in executive business positions, then perhaps these individuals could claim success, said Friedman. “But then there is much more to transformation than this.
“Are young black people finding it easier to settle in the corporate world because these individuals prepared the ground? Are we seeing a better behaved wealthy class or are we seeing the continuation of conspicuous consumption, which neglects surrounding poverty? To a large extent, not much has changed,” said Friedman.
Habib said the success of the individuals who rode the BEE train could be assessed by two critical questions: how many jobs have they created? How have they contributed to further industrialisation of the economy?
Aubrey Matshiqi, senior research associate at the Centre for Policy Studies, said SA’s economic transformation experience was similar to many other post-conflict societies. The logic was based on patronage between the old and the new political elite, both of whom tended to be far removed from the needs of the majority. It was not surprising that the status quo had been largely been maintained, he said.