BEE season in the sun must end some time

Rhodes>Perspective>2013 Archive

I am watching two bulls in the same kraal. If these were animals, I would accuse the BBC of cruelty to animals, but the men I am observing are the literary equivalent of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. One is a prolific Israeli writer, AB Yehoshua, and the other a go-anywhere journalist, Tim Franks.

Yehoshua looks shorter, stouter and balder than the last time I saw him on television. But he is still radical and describes himself as a “violent optimist”.

Franks is a hunter, the closest I know to the perfect interviewer. He knows how to get out of the way and never competes with his guest, but knows how to pounce.

“Given the continuation of the conflict and given what is happening inside Israel itself, how long do you think Israel has got . . . to continue its existence as a Jewish state?” he asks.

I expect an explosion from Yehoshua, who is an ardent Zionist, but what difference will another atomic explosion make inside the belly of a volcano that has been burning for the past 76 years?

“It’s [sic] depends on many things,” he replies. “It’s depends first of all of bringing to peace with the Palestinians [sic] . . . this is very important . . . And pulling out of the settlements in the West Bank.” (Yehoshua called for a two-state solution while it was considered anti-Semitic to do so.)

He says he cannot say whether Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan will cease to call for the Jewish state to be wiped out.

I am a words worker and so I watch interviews the way a fashion designer goes to a boutique to see what is new and perhaps to get inspired.

Yehoshua and Franks have in a way crystallised what has always been on my mind: how long have black economic empowerment [BEE] and employment equity got to continue as the cornerstone of black progress in South Africa?

This is what beneficiaries of affirmative action and BEE like myself must ask themselves. We know the season that made us thrive and so we need to know what to do when that season changes.

We know that South Africa doubled its middle class on the back of a strong ANC government that didn’t compromise on employment equity.

We also know that this happened during a buoyant world economy and we know that good countries get into financial trouble too.

So, if South Africa fell into a financial abyss and we asked for a bail-out, the first thing the International Monetary Fund would demand, as part of the conditions of the rescue plan, would be to sell our parastatals and repeal our BEE and labour laws.

If that happened, then, like the so-called Pigs countries (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain), we would be on our knees, with very little option but to accept.

And, if that happened, would it be like the day Israel withdrew from Gaza? Would we see a bloodbath as black managers were fired left, right and centre? Would we see black shareholders given back their worthless shares and told to march off?

Franks asks Yehoshua why he thinks the Jewish diaspora is a threat to the state of Israel.

“Israel [will] disappear because the diaspora is an option, ” explodes the Israeli author. “It is an option for many Israelis to say okay, it is hard here . . .”

Here is my question: could silent black shareholders be a threat to BEE? Don’t we make it too easy for companies to say we have black shareholders and don’t have to worry about the hard work of training black managers?

  • Muzi Kuzwayo, a Rhodes University alumna, is the author of Black Man’s Medicine. This article was published on Sunday Times.