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There Needs To Be Meaning To The Much-Touted Aim Of Radical Economic Transformation

The real question that few people care to address is if ownership, control and indeed access should reflect the demographics of the country.

06/10/2017 03:58 SAST | Updated 06/10/2017 03:58 SAST
Rodger Bosch/ Pool New/ Reuters
Parliamentary officers prepare to vote on the motion of no confidence against South African President Jacob Zuma in August 2017.

I've just returned from a sitting of the joint parliamentary committee on the transformation of the financial services sector, convened to discuss submissions, proposals and amendments. The clear message from the majority of MPs present was that "ownership and control should reflect the demographics of the country".

This is the principle that governs BEE, the various industry charters; it is subscribed to by the ANC, the EFF and others. The mantra is repeated in every preamble to submissions, speeches, articles and general communications.

Part two of the mantra is, "we need transformation".

Some then say -- treasury, for example -- let's look carefully at how we implement measures to achieve this and be mindful of the impact on listed companies and industry, which is the engine for growth and employment.

Now, any attempt to achieve the overarching aims above would, of necessity, fly in the face of the precepts of much of our common and commercial law and, therefore, there is a concerted view supporting legislation to alter the status quo.

The same applies to all aspects of society, and so this particular logic calls for education to be democratised, and if that means that standards must be lowered, so be it.

The real question that few people care to address is if ownership, control and indeed access (to reduced and lesser facilities) should reflect the demographics of the country, regardless of the cost, the longer-term implications, the viability of companies, the attraction of capital and resources, as well as educational and other crucial aspects that will sustain and determine our future.

The real task ahead, however, is the communication to the voters of an alternative version that challenges the precepts proposed by the ANC and its fellow travellers.

Scant consideration is given to long-term measures while short-term gratification and access to assets and institutions are championed. Votes depend on it and the mechanisms for graft rely on it. Instead, you get bogged down -- as the committee does -- in the detail of how to give effect to the various mechanisms that ostensibly "level the playing fields" and give meaning to the much-touted aim of radical economic transformation.

Or, you can question the wisdom, the approach, ab initio.

The problem is, given the current political party weighting in Parliament, any such questioning is an academic exercise. At best one may be able to tinker, in concert with evidence-based participants like the treasury, with the various mechanisms proposed to achieve radical economic transformation, whatever that means.

The real task ahead, however, is the communication to the voters of an alternative version that challenges the precepts proposed by the ANC and its fellow travellers.

This will not happen at speed.

It requires a concise articulation and absorption of the alternative, over time, in volume, across constituencies, in a manner that squares the requirements of hope, expectation, reason and reality.

The essence of that articulation is: We've had an oppressive history. Historical circumstance allowed us to forge a negotiated settlement. We inherited a world within a global system of operation that demands our responsible engagement. It's a system that is based on its own inherent and ineluctable logic. It's not a smorgasbord to be chosen from at will.

Of course, there's a current requirement to protect the vulnerable, and that needs to be costed and sustainably pursued. Importantly, there needs to be a clear focus on growing the economy, fast-tracking entrepreneurial endeavours, widening and deepening the impact of solid educational institutions and championing mentorship, training and merit-based advancement.

It needs to be understood that race is not an exact proxy for disadvantage.

This, not the hymn sheet the ANC and EFF sing from. The rationale for a separate political identity is predicated on a differentiated viewpoint -- in this instance, one that is built on the values and principles of freedom, fairness and opportunity, and underscored by redress, reconciliation, diversity and delivery.

This doesn't exclude certain measures that are genuinely broad-based and that focus on disadvantage to lay the foundation for the creation of a non-racial economy with fair distribution and opportunity for all. It needs to be understood that race is not an exact proxy for disadvantage.

It also needs to be remembered that the founding principle of apartheid was a racial classification. Unfortunately, the committee will have none of it, even though the future of the country demands it.

Ghaleb Cachalia is a member of parliament for the Democratic Alliance.