Mandela Day: What the passing of three Mandelas has shown SA about transformation

21 July 2020 by Siya Khumalo

Public reaction to the passing of each prominent member of the Mandela family has highlighted public sentiment on race-based economic redress policy in South Africa, as seen in contemporary public discussions about what each of the Mandelas stood for and the economic atmosphere at the time.

When former President Nelson Mandela passed away in December 2013, the world remembered him as someone who forgave his jailers and helped forge a negotiated settlement that allowed South Africa to enjoy democracy. But he left the question of economic redress to be tackled through policy instruments like Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE), which accumulated a word-cloud association of crony capitalism, cadre deployment, corruption, fronting and the enrichment of a politically connected elite.

Notably, a faction of the ruling party that had undermined BBBEE subsequently blamed lack of transformation on “white monopoly capital”. Using populist rhetoric, they argued that “radical economic transformation” should have been implemented from the start. 

The scapegoating of investors, though creating great risk to the economy, resonated deeply with underprivileged South Africans to the extent that Zakes Mda noted “an increasingly vocal segment of black South Africans who feel that Mandela sold out the liberation struggle to white interests”.  This segment, though still in its infancy, was “loud enough in its vehemence to warrant attention”, he argued.

After Winnie Madikizela Mandela passed away, the reaction was clearer: Some segments of society cast aspersions on what she had done in organising against the old regime, but others defended her. “She didn’t die, she multiplied,” became a popular view. Her defiant spirit would not fade, but would significantly resonate in the national mood, and this would in turn shape how large sections of the public respond to business in South Africa today. At the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Winnie Mandela refused to show the contriteness expected of her. She foresaw the destabilisation of the country that would arise thanks to the reconciliation process being used as a band-aid which did not address the question of race-based economic redress.

In the past week, just days before the anniversary of her father’s birthday, now marked as Nelson Mandela Day, we saw the demise of Zindzi Mandela, who was just 18 months old when her father was arrested on charges of treason. At the time of her birth, the military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe, was piloting sabotage against the government of the time. The cadres who once served as soldiers of the struggle are now in charge of our parastatals, but many of them have never stopped sabotaging.

The Gupta State Capture scandal and plenty of evidence presented at the Zondo Commission have shown us examples of how these unlikely bedfellows – racists and the politically connected black elite – have cooperated to sabotage the economy, because if inclusive economic growth happened, they’d be left out. 

In his inauguration speech before royals and ambassadors, Nelson Mandela said: “Never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement!” The sun setting on his youngest daughter’s life marks the end of another chapter in the “long walk to freedom” that the world associates with Mandela.  

Let us compare 1962 with 2020 to see how “so glorious a human achievement” has seen the sun set on it, and has failed to produce a “new dawn”.  

The cadres who have carried forward the sabotage of state-owned enterprises and the owners of an economy that prioritised white people have one thing in common: They abuse BBBEE because they know that practised properly, it would advance Nelson Mandela’s vision for South Africa to the point of making them redundant. Real democracy would be facilitated. But as things stand, white people who are racist, and politically-connected black elites (who depend on cadre deployment for advancement), have mediocrity in common.  

Lee du Preez, MD of BEE Novation argues that this is why they both want BEE “to be mis-implemented and abused until it leaves a sour taste in people’s mouths: racists gain the uneven playing field that makes them look excellent, and black elites use that to justify populist slogans like ‘expropriation without compensation’ and nationalisation — and they still have the chutzpah to lay the blame solely at the white minority’s feet.”  

The Gupta State Capture scandal and plenty of evidence presented at the Zondo Commission have shown us examples of how these unlikely bedfellows – racists and the politically connected black elite – have cooperated to sabotage the economy, because if inclusive economic growth happened, they’d be left out. 

The abuse of BBBEE is not the only reason, but is definitely part of the reason that employment equity statistics from the Department of Labour, reports from the BBBEE Commission, Statistics SA and the composition of the companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange reflect a severe lack of transformation after 26 years of democracy.  

“Politically connected gate-keepers want to make transformation compliance difficult, but without legitimate broad-based inclusion of capable black people, the economy will not grow,” said Du Preez. “The antidote to corruption (which grows by abusing transformation), is commitment to meaningful transformation.”

As we mark Mandela Day, businesses would do well to commit to legitimate transformation, both for their own sustainability and the broader economy. Businesses cannot exist without countries, and the country Nelson Mandela envisioned has an inclusive, growing economy where “fronting” is replaced with the genuine empowerment, especially of black women; a country where transformation efforts alleviate societal ills like gender-based violence; and a country where black athletes’ accounts of racist exclusion are believed. 

Source: Daily Maverick at https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2020-07-21-mandela-day-what-the-passing-of-three-mandelas-has-shown-sa-about-transformation/#gsc.tab=0