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Ponte, Stefano
Roberts, Simon
van Sittert, Lance
Year of Publication: 
Series/Report no.: 
DIIS Working Paper 2006:27
Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) has been a major policy thrust of the democratic governments in South Africa since 1994 in attempting to redress the effects of apartheid. This paper explores the historical precedents to BEE in South Africa, its origins, and its points of contact with the experience of ‘empowerment’ in Malaysia. The authors review the different steps taken by the South African government in promoting empowerment over the past 12 years, together with some of outcomes to date. They also draw from three case studies of sectors where government has different degrees of leverage over the process of BEE – industrial fisheries, metals and engineering, and wine. The paper highlights that the new ‘broad-based’ configuration of BEE has become a managerial and technocratic process that may thwart the overall objectives of ‘empowerment’ in at least four ways. First, it is moving the debate from a political terrain, where redistribution is in theory possible, to a managerial terrain, where discussions are technical and set within the limits of codification, measurement intervals and systemic performance. Second, by so doing, it is partially shifting the responsibility for promoting change and for bearing the consequences of failure away from elected government and towards a generic ‘system’ that has a life of its own. An emerging industry of accountants, technocrats, auditors and certifiers are the foot soldiers of this system, but bear no responsibility. Third, BEE is now based on such levels of complexity that it implicitly legitimizes ‘outsourcing’ of its management from government to the private (auditing) sector, thus reinforcing a further weakening of the state and facilitating a next round of ‘outsourcing’ of previously political and now managerialized functions. Finally, BEE managerialism is forwarding the idea that (some level of) redistribution is actually possible in a neo-liberal economic policy setting, thus disenfranchising more radical options in policy-making.
The racially-constituted workplaces of South Africa under apartheid have been identified as obstacles to better industrial performance since the mid-1990s. The Department of Trade and Industry’s 2003 strategy identifies ‘Black Economic Empowerment’ (BEE) as being broadbased, inclusive, and part of a sustainable long-term growth and development strategy. In this, it is consistent with the 2001 Black Economic Empowerment Commission report, the ANC 2002 conference resolution and ultimately the ANC’s Reconstruction and Development Programme of 1994. This paper uses firm-level information in the metals & engineering industries to examine the actual nature and extent of BEE across the dimensions of ownership, procurement, employment equity and training. Its aim is to examine the relationships between BEE concepts and provisions and the responses that firms took in practice. Direct pressure for BEE in metals & engineering firms arises from legislation and regulatory provisions governing employment equity, skills development and procurement. It also follows from procurement provisions applying to large companies that buy from metals & engineering firms, such as mining conglomerates and State-Owned Enterprises (e.g. Eskom and Transnet). This is a revised version of a paper presented at the workshop ‘To BEE or not to BEE: South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), Corporate Governance and the State in the South’, at the Danish Institute for International Studies Copenhagen, 25-26 June, 2006. We thank all the attendees at the workshop for comments and suggestions. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation, and the involvement of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa in the research process. We thank Ganief Bardien and Neo Chabane for their collaboration in the research on which this paper is based. The study would also not have been possible without the participation of the 25 firms interviewed.The Independence of Namibia came about in 1990 as the result of a negotiated decolonisation process. The controlled change implied a perpetuation of the existing socio-economic inequalities under the former liberation movement as the new government. The country’s constitution endorsed the status quo in terms of property rights. Ever since then Namibia has remained the country with the highest income discrepancies in the world. In the absence of any coherent socio-economic redistributive measures for the formerly colonised majority, strategies such as affirmative action and Black Economic Empowerment have claimed to uplift the previously disadvantaged groups. The paper shows, that this has so far resulted merely in a slight diversification of the local class structure, with the new political office bearers and its clientele as the beneficiaries. They secure material privileges and individual gains by means of access to the state apparatus and control over resources, while the majority of the people remain poor. Consequently, Namibia’s BEE so far translates merely into a classbased interest policy to legitimise the (self-)enrichment of a new small black elite.
Document Type: 
Working Paper

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