Image: black business woman

Sandile Zungu’s analogy for empowerment policy is intriguing: it is needed, he argues, to “steam the train in the right direction”’ (“BEE needed for peace and order, says Black Business Council”, September 10).

Trains do not change direction; they are driven down tracks, which lead to predetermined destinations. This makes railway construction a long-term process that demands careful planning and impeccable ongoing maintenance. It is doubtful that this describes current empowerment policy.

There are long-standing concerns that as it stands the policy places significant burdens on investors and business people. It is elite-focused, offering little to entrepreneurs, small business people and, critically, little to the millions of SA’s poor. All of this has meant a very bumpy ride to an indeterminate end station.

Trains can, however, change tracks, and head to different stations. SA needs a new model of empowerment. This would clearly identify the goal as one of broad societal prosperity and devote its energies to the upliftment of the country’s poor. We at the Institute of Race Relations have designed just such a system, economic empowerment for the disadvantaged (EED).

It acknowledges the indispensability of wealth creation as well as the importance of providing opportunities for those currently excluded from participation in the economy. It seeks to correct those hurdles — poor education and inadequate healthcare, for example — that deny millions of people a chance for such participation. And, echoing Zungu’s call that there “is a big role that the private sector will play”, EED would seek to incentivise private sector involvement, rather than demanding it.

Moreover, those concerned with SA’s future peace should be wary of accepting that widespread material deprivation might endure — or that it will be dealt with incidentally by focusing on race. This could indeed derail the country.

Terence Corrigan
Institute of Race Relations

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