June 6, 2003

Discussion on Black Economic Empowerment

Affirmative action and black economic empowerment (BEE) which only benefited a small elite would be wrong and have to be changed. President Thabo Mbeki said this in the National Assembly on June 5, when confronted with statements his brother, Moeletsi Mbeki, made earlier this week about the negative effects of BEE.

Sheila Camerer of the Democratic Alliance (DA) asked Mbeki for an assurance that the doors to employment are open to all South Africans, regardless of their race or gender. "The DA is in favour of affirmative action, but against how it is implemented," Camerer said. "The impression is created that the main beneficiaries are a small group of black elite as your brother Moeletsi Mbeki pointed out this week." The president said he would like to get the information to substantiate the claim. "But if affirmative action is building only a small black elite, we would need to do something about it," he said. "It is incorrect. If it is being done, it must be stopped."

Mbeki's younger brother, Moeletsi, slammed BEE in its current form, saying only a few people were being enriched, while empowerment merely amounted to the transfer of assets to individuals with good political connections. "We are taking political leaders and politically connected people and giving them assets which, in the first instance, they don't know how to manage," the younger Mbeki told a seminar on The Myth and Reality of Black Economic Empowerment at the University of Pretoria.

"We should be cautious that at all times we justify the measures taken, in that they must be intended to achieve the advancement of persons previously disadvantaged systematically," President Mbeki said during a parliamentary debate yesterday. The constitution prohibited unjustified discrimination, "and our task is to be vigilant about this so that such factors do not impair or destroy the process". He also revealed that Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had discussed the government's concern that young skilled South Africans should return to the country, "with all representatives abroad with a view to link up with South African communities abroad to get them focused on the country and to encourage them to make an input". (Cape Argus, Cape Town)

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