By Luvuyo Madasa, executive director at ReimagineSA

We need to ask ourselves why, 25 years after our political emancipation, we have not achieved the economic liberation we envisaged. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “We have, at last, achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination.”

Without detracting from what we have achieved, we continue to live in one of the world’s most unequal societies. We need to reimagine South Africa, and find new ways to build a prosperous society for all. And we must question why some of the instruments we have used to build a more equal and fair society have not delivered the outcomes they intended.

Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE), for example, has not turned out to be truly broad-based or transformative. To fix B-BBEE, we must face up to three truths:

1. One of the biggest problems is short-termism
As they are practiced today, the B-BBEE laws and codes have resulted in a high-cost, short-term, compliance-driven reaction, rather than long-term empowerment programmes designed to grow our economy and support mass scale integration of skills into the mainstream economy. Treating B-BBEE as an afterthought rather than a strategic priority extends a history of exclusion.

It has been a lose-lose game for all: the business community have missed out on years of reaping an inclusive return on impact, based on the benefits of a more robust and equal society. And on the other hand, the absence of serving the spirit of the law, has left in its wake a marginalised majority, and unsustainable economic inequality.

Building a globally competitive South Africa demands that business move beyond the high cost of short-termism of compliance only, and reconnect with the spirit and intention of the codes of good practice.

2. The B-BBEE policy as we know it today has evolved only as those with influence and power have applied it
As with many polices, B-BBEE has been poorly implemented. Both the elite beneficiaries of B-BBEE and the established businesses need to reimagine the incentives and outcomes to better apply the policy as it was intended, and embrace the spirit of the law, rather than begrudgingly applying the letter of the law with self-limiting and costly pure-compliance only.

3. We must build local context in our economy
Let’s pivot to seeing B-BBEE policy for what it is intended. This thinking allows leaders to identify the opportunities for growth borne out of integrating B-BBEE policy into their core business growth strategy. Integrating B-BBEE into core business strategy is an opportunity to build an inclusive and agile business that:

  • responds to local context
  • becomes a preferred employer that delivers the brand promise of improving people’s lives
  • is well-placed for incentives earmarked for preferred corporate citizens known for advancing government priorities

  • Measuring success through a policy designed to respond to a local context is key to building inclusive and sustainable South African businesses. Imagine the wealth we could collectively generate by promoting mutually beneficial savings, insurance, manufacturing, and other goods and services to the benefit of all, not just a few.

    Here is an opportunity to create a generation of South Africans who work together to produce and support only those goods and services that promote their own wellbeing: spiritually, culturally and physically. A generation who understand profit and purpose and the distinction between narrow profit and broad value.

    This is the true benefit of B-BBEE and it is within our grasp to realise it.