OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. Picture: ACSA
OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. Picture: ACSA

The Covid-19 pandemic not only poses a health threat for South Africans, it poses a serious threat to their livelihoods too. This is because there are no known methods of containing the coronavirus without incurring economic costs.

Logically, our government has taken the decision to prioritise protecting the health of its people by putting in place measures to curb the spread of the virus. This has included the extraordinary step of placing the country on a lockdown for 21 days, now extended by another two weeks until the end of April.  These measures have had a devastating impact on every sector of the economy, travel and tourism in particular.

Fearing that the small, medium and micro-sized enterprises (SMMEs) that are the backbone of job creation in the tourism sector will be decimated during this crisis, the department of tourism decided to provide once-off grant assistance to SMMEs in the tourism value chain to ensure their sustainability. The grant is capped at R50,000 per entity.

Necessarily and correctly, the department has decided to administer the relief fund in accordance with the Tourism Broad-Based BEE (B-BBEE) Code of Good Practice approved by the trade and industry minister in 2015. This in line with the objectives of economic transformation, and the vision to ensure SA has a sustainable and inclusive tourism development.

Over and above the moral imperative of transforming the economy, the department of tourism is compelled to apply sector codes as stated in section 10 of the B-BBEE Act: “[E]very organ of state … must apply any relevant code of good practice issued in terms of this act in … determining criteria for the awarding of incentives, grants and investment schemes in support of B-BBEE”.

Evidently, the DA and its surrogates have decided to deliberately conflate non-compliance with the B-BBEE Act and exclusion on the basis of race

Since announcing the relief fund, I have been inundated with letters and have endured written and verbal abuse from those who erroneously believe that invoking the Disaster Management Act means the suspension of the application of the B-BBEE Act and B-BBEE tourism sector codes to government programmes.

No sooner had I announced the Tourism Relief Fund than Solidarity brought an urgent application to oppose the intention to apply B-BBEE sector codes to administer the relief fund. Not to be outdone, AfriForum followed suit with a court application.

In an April 8 statement, DA leader John Steenhuisen announced DA’s intention to “consult its lawyers to seek legal advice on the legality and constitutionality of the racialisation of the government’s Covid-19 financial relief measures”.

Evidently, the DA and its surrogates have decided to deliberately conflate non-compliance with the B-BBEE Act and exclusion on the basis of race. Perhaps the question we need to ask and give an honest answer to is, why is it that so many businesses are still failing to comply with B-BBEE?

That the DA, Afriforum and Solidarity have chosen to oppose the application of B-BBEE policy in the administration of the fund is hardly surprising, because these three organisations have, on many occasions, expressed their opposition to the B-BBEE policy and want it scrapped. However, what is unfortunate is that these organisations have chosen to use this crisis as a theatre for political posturing on such an important issue.

Perhaps the most revealing opposition to the administration of the fund came from the Institute of Race Relations (IRR).

In a letter to the editor (Kubayi-Ngubane sends a worrying message, April 8), Terence Corrigan wrote: “Race-based empowerment policy has long been a burden on business, for both domestic and foreign firms, while having performed questionably at opening up opportunities for new entrepreneurs and having unquestionably failed to spur desperately needed economic growth. When the health emergency recedes, SA will need to go for growth with single-minded determination. It will need every ounce of entrepreneurial energy it can muster. The very stability of the country will be at stake if it does not.”

The content of this letter lays bare the core beliefs of those who oppose the application of B-BBEE policy. They believe BEE is antithetical to growth and the determination to kindle growth is the antithesis of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial energy, and is not factor for the stability of the country.

Simply put, these sections of society still hold the view that the participation of black people in the economy, especially as owners of the means of production, is a negation of entrepreneurship and growth. What might seem like a genuine concern for SMMEs in relation to Tourism Relief Fund from these sections of society is but an expression of opposition to the emergence of black business in the economy.

Our government and those who are committed to creating a stable, non-racial and democratic SA believe that our government should intervene, through policies such as B-BBEE, to create an inclusive business sector that adds to the growth of the economy.

• Kubayi-Ngubane is tourism minister.

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