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OPINION: The Freedom Charter has been trashed


On Tuesday, June 26, once again we will be marking the adoption of the Freedom Charter (FC) that calls among other lofty ideals, for the people to “share in the country's wealth”.

Quite frankly the FC has become meaningless if the economic stagnation of the country is anything to go by, with horrific economic indicators such as extreme unemployment levels and debilitating poverty. The sharing that the charter envisages is yet to happen. The only sharing seems to be among the elite - while “the people” referred to by the charter continue to suffer under the yoke of poverty, with some 55% of them living below the breadline.

A memorial featuring 10 sculptures, 10 columns and 10 clauses from the Freedom Charter is seen at the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication in Kliptown. File picture: Dumisani Sibeko

As if this is not enough, the levels of corruption suggest that the only people having anything to share are greedy politicians and their corrupt proxies who masquerade as civil servants. What makes me sick to the stomach is the absence of consequences when this malfeasance is exposed.

In 2009 some 2000 civil servants were found to have been “doing business with themselves” - awarding their own companies or those of their families and friends business. Sharing so to speak with their families and friends resources that are meant to improve the lives of ordinary people who live by the promise of a better life for all.

I am not aware that any of these corrupt people are in prison. Instead, I wouldn't be surprised if some of them were actually promoted as we saw in the case of the Gupta Waterkloof airbase plane landing saga a few years ago. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) corruption register has a pathetically low number of entries that cannot even fill one page when R34billion is said to have been wasted by various government agencies, departments and municipalities, trudging up some R700bn bill in stolen loot since 1994. It's a mockery of the FC. Imagine how much sharing could have happened if that kind of money was put to good use!

Much more needs to be done to make the FC come to life especially where it relates to the economy. On Sunday the VBS bank was on the front pages once again for terrible reasons. In all our economic strategies how come we still don't have a black-owned bank in South Africa competing on the level of the Big 5 banks? What would it take to establish such a bank as part of serious economic intervention?

The development funding institutions such as the Independent Development Co-operation have terms of borrowing that are often worse than commercial banks and so fail to intervene where it is crucial. They fail in fact to intervene in an area they were specifically established for - development. Why we have to ask, do they really exist if their terms are as unreasonable as the commercial banks? The sad thing is that they are often accused of giving funding to people who are connected to politicians and their money ends up funding activities that are not in their mandate.

This has got to stop. The failure to stimulate entrepreneurship activity in the country must be the most glaring failure of these institutions and sadly this does not seem to be improving. The government must set tough targets for these institutions and disband them if they continue to fail to stimulate growth.

Black economic empowerment is an intervention that must be welcome. Granted the legislative framework took time to mature but it is certainly not the time to revise it. It must simply be implemented. The key tenets of BEE focus on the sharing that the FC writers had in mind. Initially, it was a token scheme where white people gave crumbs to black politicians and folded their arms on the true transformation of their companies. This is now a thing of the past, at least in law. What is missing is monitoring of companies to implement true and meaningful change.

The BEE legislation is all about sharing. Sharing the ownership and management of the companies; sharing the employment opportunities among different race groups in the country; sharing knowledge through deliberate staff upskilling - a company is expected to share a percentage of its profits with its own staff to empower them. It does not end there - a company can also, through enterprise development, share its financial and human resources with small and upcoming businesses, creating a full circle of empowerment.

When it comes to procurement, small business is often closed out of “old boys' clubs”. Opening the procurement supply chain, companies can share the economic benefits of opening new markets for companies to such opportunities. Lastly, corporates who make money out of communities must share the same profits with communities through corporate social investments. Now you can't tell me this policy is not in line with what the FC envisaged.

What is wrong is the political will from both the government and the private sector to implement this. Business spends a lot of resources trying to crook the system through numerous underhanded, ways including hiring executives whose job is to try to fool the authorities about their levels of compliance. On the other hand, the government has failed dismally to monitor BEE compliance in corporate South Africa.

The so-called BEE Commission is yet to do anything useful in this regard. The results are there for everyone to see - some 60% of all new appointments and promotions are still going to white people, representing an unequivocal defiance of the transformation agenda by corporate South Africa. Transformation as a serious imperative is off the table of most corporates, hence the poor ownership of the economy persists.

For the sharing envisaged by the FC to be meaningful, a few tough things must be done as talking and persuasion has clearly failed. The government must roll out punitive measures against companies that are not empowered. Refusal of government business, cancelling of operating licences and levying of hefty fines must be put firmly in place to ensure that the people shall indeed share in this country's wealth.

Stringent consequences against those who steal resources meant to be shared with the poor must kick in immediately because until corrupt people are in prison a message of complacency persists.

The FC needs a new set of champions fast - for our people have been patient since these lofty promises were made in Kliptown in 1955.

* Tabane is the host of Power Perspective on Power 987 Mondays to Thursdays 8 pm to midnight and anchor of Frankly Speaking on SABC3, Sundays at 8.30 pm.



Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER

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