Ramaphosa says South Africa should use the coronavirus pandemic to strengthen BEE

 ·19 Jun 2020

President Cyril Ramaphosa says that South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) regulations should be ‘enhanced’ as part of a push to build a more inclusive economy in the wake of the country’s coronavirus crisis.

In a virtual parliament on Thursday (18 June), Ramaphosa was asked by the Freedom Front Plus’ Pieter Groenewald how he plans to use the ‘golden opportunity’ of the coronavirus to restructure the economy.

“Don’t you think this a golden opportunity to get rid of BEE, get rid of affirmative action. You’ve asked the youth to get involved in building South Africa, does that include all of the youth?” Groenewald said.

In response, the president noted that while the coronavirus provides an opportunity to restructure parts of the economy, other measures need to remain and place and be strengthened  – including Black Economic Empowerment (BEE).

“The Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment policy thrust of this government, if anything, needs to be enhanced,” he said.

“We need to ensure that (black South Africans) who were – under apartheid and colonial rule – excluded from playing an important role in the economy of their own country, be given their rightful position of playing an important role in the economy of their country. This is something that has to be done without any fail.”

Ramaphosa added that South African cannot continue to have an economy that excludes the majority of the people and believe that it can still grow the economy.

“Our economy is damaged because it is not utilising all of its resources. It’s like we have a vehicle with 12 cylinders but we have forever and a day been operating on four cylinders.”

Ramaphosa said that the only way this can be fixed is by bringing black South Africans into the mainstream of the economy.

“Because they were deliberately excluded through laws, through policies, conventions and practices, we’ve got to ensure that we implement the provisions of our Constitution.

“The Constitution says that in order for us to obtain equality we have got to have legislative measures that will enable us to do precisely that. So BEE is here to stay.”

Ramaphosa said that black South Africans have been patient for a long time. Instead of questioning these polices, he said that Groenewald should have instead presented solutions to addressing this imbalance.

“If we don’t change, it is those who have been excluded from the economy who are going to respond, and then all could be lost,” he said.

“What I would have wanted to hear from honourable Groenewald and those of his ilk is to come forward and say, ‘like many others are doing, we realise that we have a historic problem. Apartheid excluded the majority of South Africans… this is what we should do’.

“I would have preferred that they come forward with proposals instead of barriers,” he said.

Changes incoming

In May, the Department of Employment and Labour said it will amend and enact changes around South Africa’s employment equity regulations to address issues around equal opportunities and inclusion.

Employment and labour director-general Thobile Lamati said that this will include a push for further transformation changes at senior levels across South African businesses.

Citing the government’s 2018-2019 Employment Equity report, Lamati said that black Africans currently constitute 23.2% and 40.2% at the senior and middle management levels as reported by designated employers.

He said government will now push for at least a 2% annual increase in the representation of black Africans in senior and middle-manager levels.

He added that the Department of Labour plans to set sector targets to bring this to at least 50% within the next five years (2024).

Lamati said that the department also plans to amend the existing Employment Equity Act to help it meet these transformation targets within the same time frame.

In July 2019, Labour minister Thulas Nxesi announced a planned amendment bill which will regulate the setting of sector-specific employment targets to address the gross under-representation of blacks, women and persons with disabilities.

It will also ensure that an employment equity certificate of compliance becomes a precondition for access to state contracts.

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