Has BEE been successful?

South Africa is respected as an example of an inspiring transition from the oppression of apartheid to the freedom of democracy. The transition in South Africa since 1994 has included changes in the economy, government, agriculture, media, criminal justice system, delivery of critical services such as water and health care, race relations, institutions of the state, education system and big business.

The success of the BEE and affirmative action policies in reducing inequality in South Africa is still being hotly debated. Whilst supporters of these policies proclaim that a great deal has been achieved, critics argue that the policies have only served to enrich a very small percentage of black people and that there has been a negligible trickle-down effect to the poorest of the poor.

Government’s intention was not to intervene in BEE. It wanted to let market forces drive black participation in the economy. However, it was forced to legislate and define the parameters of BEE as the private sectors and the market failed to adequately address black participation to restore the balance using broad-based BEE. As such, it set the foundation for a focused strategy of broad-based BEE.

Good policies encourage collaboration between government and the private sector. And whilst the Codes are not legally binding on the private sector, they are economically binding for the sustainability of any business. For that reason, BEE has become a business imperative to be a successful player in the mainstream economy.

Yet we have seen that President Zuma is not as passionate about BEE as the former President Mbeki. In his State of the Nation speeches, he has undertaken to continue to implement broad-based BEE without giving details of what might be done differently to ensure the success of the transformation process.

Despite the many economic gains made in the country since 1994, the racial divide between rich and poor remains. Successful BEE is a progression and its success should be viewed within the broad scope of the empowerment processes.

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