Speech at the Annual National Conference
of the Black Management Forum
Kempton Park, November 20, 1999
Master of Ceremonies,
President of the BMF,
Mr Bheki Sibiya,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to
be with you this morning. If nothing else, this gives
us the possibility to wish the Conference success and
genuinely to say that I would be most interested to
hear the outcome of your discussions.
Two days ago the "Cape Times" led with a
story on black control of the economy under the headline
"Black control on JSE down 50%" which they
said represented the "lowest level since 1997."
I am certain that reference will already have been made
by delegates, to the report from which this story derives.
This news might have somewhat dampened your spirits
as you prepared to start this Conference. On the other
hand, this bad news could, and probably has, served
sharply to focus our attention on the challenges that
face all of us as we struggle to achieve black economic
From your documentation I can see that, correctly,
you approach this empowerment in its widest possible
meaning. My own remarks this morning will not be as
I will speak only to the question of the challenge
of the formation of a black capitalist class, a black
I trust that the distinguished delegates know that
I am a member of the African National Congress and that
the important sounding titles which precede my name
are a result of decisions taken by the ANC.
Just over two years from now, the ANC will be 90 years
old. Throughout these decades, the ANC has had as one
of its central tasks, if not the central task, the defeat
and elimination of racism in our country.
This remains one of the strategic objectives of the
ANC and therefore the government in which we serve,
together with the IFP.
Even though, like myself, we might have moved out of
our township houses into suburban residences, none of
us who is black can avoid the daily recognition that
racism continues to be a defining feature of what we
justly call the new South Africa.
Consequently, as I stand here, one of the things I
must say is that -because racism lives, the struggle
continues! The distinguished delegates will remember
that at some point during the life of our first democratic
government, there was much ado about when the ANC might
transform itself from a liberation movement into a party.
As so often happens in our country, because this seemed
to be a clever thought, it became somewhat of a fad
that each time anyone of us appeared in public, the
clever people, or those who thought they were clever,
would ask - when will you transform yourselves into
a party! Personally, I never understood what it was
that occasioned this question.
Frankly, I still do not understand both why the clever
people thought they should pose this question and what,
in any case, the question means.
To explain this, I have had to come to the conclusion
that clearly, I cannot count myself among the clever
people of South Africa.
Being less than clever, I would have assumed that the
ANC would change its character once it had completed
its historic mission - once the purposes for which it
had been established had been accomplished.
Because racism lives, the struggle continues! Because
of that, the ANC must remain what it has been for many
decades, a movement for the elimination on the legacy
of the system of racism, in the interest of all South
Africans, whatever their race or colour or class or
A critical part of that project, to realise the prescription
in our Constitution, to create a non-racial society,
is the deracialisation of the ownership of productive
property in our country.
The "Cape Times" article to which I referred
says that "black control on the Johannesburg Stock
Exchange could possibly fall below one percent in the
next few months..." Regardless of the manner in
which such black control is measured, these figures
make the important point that five years after the arrival
of the democratic order, we have not made much progress,
and may very well be marching backwards, with regard
to the objective of the deracialisation of the ownership
of productive property.
Clearly, something is not right.
Let me restate what I said earlier.
This morning, I will speak only to the question of
the challenge of the formation of a black capitalist
class, a black bourgeoisie.
This is, and must be, an important part of the process
of the deracialisation of the ownership of productive
property in our country.
Ours is a capitalist society. It is therefore inevitable
that, in part -and I repeat, in part - we must address
this goal of deracialisation within the context of the
property relations characteristic on a capitalist economy.
As part of the realisation of the aim to eradicate
racism in our country, we must strive to create and
strengthen a black capitalist class.
Because we come from among the black oppressed, many
among us feel embarrassed to state this goal as nakedly
as we should.
Our lives are not made easier by those who, seeking
to deny that poverty and wealth in our country continue
to carry their racial hues, argue that wealth and income
disparities among the black people themselves are as
wide as disparities between black and white.
Simply put, the argument is that the rich are rich
whether they are black or white. The poor are poor,
whether they are black or white. In other words, so
it is being suggested, the issue of the disparity in
wealth is purely a class question, as it would largely
be in a country such as Germany, and not an element
of the national question as well.
All this frightens and embarrasses all those of us
who are black and might be part of the new rich. Accordingly,
we walk as far and as fast as we can from the notion
that the struggle against racism in our country must
include the objective of creating a black bourgeoisie.
I would like to urge, very strongly, that we abandon
our embarrassment about the possibility of the emergence
of successful and therefore prosperous black owners
of productive property and think and act in a manner
consistent with a realistic response to the real world.
As part of our continuing struggle to wipe out the
legacy of racism, we must work to ensure that there
emerges a black bourgeoisie, whose presence within our
economy and society will be part of the process of the
deracialisation of the economy and society.
Accordingly, indeed, the government must come to the
aid of those among the black people who might require
such aid in order to become entrepreneurs.
This principle has already been established and is
in practice already being acted upon. I refer here to
the fact of the new tender and procurement policies
the government is following, the establishment of the
National Empowerment Fund as well as Ntsika and Khula.
And yet the question is still being raised that the
government should come in to help the black entrepreneur.
For instance the Cape Times article to which we have
referred quotes a black business person as saying:
"The government has to come in here. If you look
at other countries like Malaysia and Singapore, the
empowerment movement was helped by the government, both
in terms of funding and the opportunities. One way or
another, the government has to supply some of the funding
and persuade financial institutions in this country
to invest in black economic empowerment. "
The question this proposal evokes is - what kind of
activity is the government being asked to fund? For
instance, is it being suggested that the government
should lend money to some black consortia to enable
these to buy a minority of shares in as many blue chip
companies as possible, of course making sure that this
money was made available at concessionary rates? If
this is what is being suggested, the question would
have to be answered as to how the setting up of such
holding companies helps the fundamental project of black
In the quotation we have just read, reference is made
I am certain that those of us who have interacted with
the Malaysian business community will have realised
that they see themselves as part of the process of the
socio-economic transformation of their country, including
the upliftment of the Malay people, the central reason
why the government intervened to help specifically Malay
I am certain that many of us present here would be
aware of a least some instances when black business
people have been quite happy to lend their faces to
white owners of Capital so that the latter can appear
to satisfy black empowerment requirements in government
tenders. We would also know of instances where black
business people have behaved in a manner which clearly
says that they believe that the first charge on the
corporate revenues is not the expansion of the business
therefore the economy, but the acquisition of more personal
wealth such as a grand house, a grand car and a grand
salary. Indeed, it is to meet this objective that some
are ready to rent themselves out to white business people
to win government tenders.
I am certain that all of us would agree that we would
exclude such people from among those we would describe
as activists for black economic empowerment. And thus
far we come back to the questions that have been dogging
us for years now - what is black economic empowerment
and how shall we realise it?
I am glad to see Comrade Cyril Ramaphosa here today
and look forward to hearing what he will say. Earlier
this year, before the elections we agreed that we would
meet - government and black business to assess the whole
project of black economic empowerment and try to find
ways to move forward in a meaningful fashion. The work
he and his colleagues are doing, about which he will
speak this morning, is critical to that assessment,
which must also see to answer the question -how do we
promote the formation of a black bourgeoisie which will
itself be committed and contribute to black economic
empowerment, broadly understood? If this conference
helps us to meet this challenge, it will have made a
very important contribution to our struggle for the
creation of a non-racial South Africa.