As I reflect on Transformation from my own experiences in this dynamic journey. I remember vividly how, on my fourth job and in between stints of ad hoc survival attempts to eke out a living, I came to understand that it is true that fortune favors the brave. It was almost 10 years ago, In the leafy suburb of Sandton, the epitome of arrival even at that time and certainly a status symbol for post democracy analysis. There is where I had my first encounter with B-BBEE, in a Consulting Firm, which was noticeably 100% white owned advising and consulting on all things economically black. Mama, I made it! I would go down in history as a participant and contributor to our country’s turnaround strategy.
Fast forward to 2017, the very black economic empowerment firm has; grown in leaps and bounds with added increases in resources, revenue and service offering. Certainly the poster child for growth and development in this young transformation space and still a key player within BEE. However, what rattles me is the glaring fact that this establishment still enjoys the same 100% white owned shareholding status.
The irony is that I, as a young black “custodian” of the B-BBEE policy, was introduced to the landscape by a 100% white owned firm. I am by no means denouncing the free market economy principles that are supported by democratic rights as enshrined in our constitution and that which provides a trading space for ANY abiding entrepreneur. I suppose I am questioning my own ignorance or why I was not aware of the policy before my encounter with this said business.
I honestly believed myself to be the proverbial “woke black man.” Especially having been a scholar in a predominantly Afrikaans medium High School in slow-to-transform Pretoria, where my identity as a black man was a palpable reality in both good and bad terms. I was also an avid listener of the John Qwelane show on talk radio 702, John was just the controversial protagonist I needed to come out of my pre-1994 shell. He represented my dis-empowered voice over the years and this enlightenment was stirring up my conscientiousness about democracy as a robust experience, rather than a policy on paper. Even then, with my limited exposure to the essence of transformation post 1994, I had already inclined myself to some tough questions around what all this meant to me.
Questions like who are the custodians of this policy? Not the policy makers, but those whom this policy impacts the most. How entrenched in our society as a whole is transformation or the lack thereof really, if it is to be predominantly driven by non-beneficiaries? Shouldn’t the custodians of this change be in the forefront? I mean we all believe and celebrate the ownership of being black in champions like Serena Williams or Tiger Woods right? There is a clear link between the benefits of giving people of colour the same opportunities and proving through these actions that black excellence is as real as it is possible, even in spaces previously regarded as ‘white’.
And then finally I often grappled with what the brand or corporate identity of the BEE policy is. How this policy has been positioned to be a source of hope and the ultimate constituent of the process of change that comes with transformation, both socio-economically as well as within the boardrooms of corporate South Africa. I found myself wanting as to where the Nike swoosh of B-BBEE fits into the bigger picture.
There are 45 million black South Africans, simply meaning that 9 out of 10 people in this country are black by BEE’s definition. How that reflects the true share value within the policy is still a point of contention. There are sizeable omissions and a gross lack of understanding of what should be the core focus of every black South African. There is also the trap of misinterpretation, distortion and the vexatious practice of fronting. This contract has presented many grey areas. Notwithstanding that a weak PR engine and media coverage of the success stories and implementation of BEE, has all but marred the policy’s reputation as an icon for true success, true sustainability and true redress of the events in history that brought about its need.
What we have here is a transformation policy whose identity is that of its direct beneficiaries being Black South Africans but it still remains outside of their own grasp.
The value of the shares remains misinterpreted and very often diluted, I will go as far saying fractured. What has gained more traction is the misplaced corridor discussions that only breed the ‘us and them syndrome’ and subsequently resulted in a regressive narrative on the policy. This is the face of BEE that is being bolstered in our communities. We have even coined the emerging black business class as “BEE’s” and have come to associate those that have benefited from a policy meant for their benefit as amongst other;
the chosen few who are politically connected (or perhaps attaching data to the analysis would be more advisable? That is just the analyst in me talking).
That BEE has not progressed enough. Can we be more accountable and display more interest in debunking what this means in real measurable terms.
and lastly that the policy has become so simplistic in its implementation, therefore rendering it a box ticking exercise as opposed to a lived objective with ideal outputs that should look very different to what they do currently.
In all fairness, policy makers will shape our public discourse, but it is upon shareholders to take it to the next level. Policies are generally constructed for key focused beneficiaries whether it be an environmental policy, global policy or health policy. There is always a targeted owner(s) on whom the onus of success is vested.
We need to effectively demystify the BEE policy. We have not been able to really understand the value proposition of the BEE Act nor internalised it. What we have done quite successfully is to be emotional about the policy and thus fuelled more gossip than actionable steps around it.
From 2007 when the B-BBEE Codes was gazetted, The BEE Codes has been raptured, possibly experiencing a decline in its share prices, perceptions, misinterpretations and all unintended consequences. Even though the intended objective was to seek to eradicate and readdress the injustices of the past, the process became pedestrian and polarised the desired output.
In my opinion and based on experience, I have come to the conclusion that the true custodians of the policy are black South Africans. Over years it has become blatantly clear that black South Africans have limited to no understanding and knowledge about the value of the policy. These beneficiaries are caught up in hushed discussions on what it may possibly mean as opposed to open dialogue about its true meaning, how it is supposed to work or knowing when it is not working. All of these are legitimate discussions and they are long overdue.
Being a part of the team at NPI Governance Consulting, it would seem that I have come full circle as compared to 10 years ago. We are 100% black owned with a multi-faceted approach to solutions around B-BBEE and Transformation. Well suited to deliver on this policy and its demystification. This is achieved through provision rigorous and ongoing training. These training sessions are bespoke, simplified and intended to continue this open discussion about what all players truly see the policy to be. Participants are encouraged to approach the discomfort on the subject around transformation, with the same sober accession that they would any strategic objectives of their organisations albeit with a broad-minded appreciation for the spirit of the BEE policy.
What I would like to leave you with for now is to ask yourself whether the B-BBEE policy is achieving a connection with and amongst black South Africans, enough for the communication to transcend the colour barriers and become homogenous where it matters most. – Ian Tshephe, Head of Operations and Transformation
Ian Tshephe (who writes in his personal capacity) is the Head of Operations and Transformation at NPI Governance Consulting. He is an avid runner having finished two Comrades as well as three Two Oceans marathons. Certainly no stranger to challenges but welcomes the opportunity to forge ahead in finding solutions. In his own words, “I don’t form partnerships with clients, I build lasting connections beyond the bottom line.”
For further information, contact:
Thato Malebane, Marketing & Communications Manager
Tel: (+27) 011 259 4018