Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan was quite right last week in warning against the perils of ignoring history — but does he really mean what he says? The context of his remark — responding to my colleague and head of policy research at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) Anthea Jeffery’s warning that basing empowerment on race is failing and should be ditched — was what he called the “agenda” for overcoming the continuing exclusion of the black majority from meaningful participation in the economy. “Those who ignore that agenda are ignoring history,” he said. If this seems obvious, it’s because it’s true, except for that freighted term, “agenda”. While seeming refreshingly reasonable — suggesting that “new ideas need to come to the fore”, that “new and dynamic ways have to be found to upskill young people” and that solutions are possible “if we work in a constructive way” — the minister signalled the ideological limit of such solution-seeking by observing of Jeffery’s arg...

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