Lionel October. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Lionel October, director-general of trade and industry, briefs the trade and industry committee on the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Amendment Bill on Tuesday. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

It is reported (October backs DA over "racially neutral" BEE points, February 21) that the Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) trade and industry spokesman, Wilmot James, has argued for racially neutral codes in relation to skills development.

The article further quotes Mr James questioning whether "racially based empowerment was desirable and necessary in South Africa and whether a sunset clause signalling its end should be legislated".

You quote the Department of Trade and Industry as having endorsed the proposals: "Department of Trade and Industry director-general Lionel October on Monday endorsed a Democratic Alliance proposal that points awarded for skills development be racially neutral in the revised broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) codes of good practice and scorecard".

If these statements are true, and particularly if the department endorses such proposals, the Black Business Council wishes to express its strongest objections yet in these ensuing debates. We view these as part of a bigger frontal attack on BEE in general.

Our departure point is that the BBBEE Act in essence cannot be racially neutral because the act has a very distinct purpose: to implement a constitutional mandate aimed at addressing huge inequalities that are a repugnant apartheid legacy.

Lest we forget, this legacy included the provision of inferior education to the majority of the population in a systematic and demeaning manner.

It is the inferior education system that has resulted in a poor skills base for blacks, particularly Africans, that now reflects badly on South Africa as a whole.

The very core of our ills in terms of lack of skills in this country is the very apartheid-based education systems that gave birth to a sea of illiteracy amongst Africans. Today the majority of our children perform under par because they come from homes whose parents are either illiterate or semi-illiterate, unlike the white child that has historically enjoyed immense literate parental support and advanced and superior teaching environments.

We are not at all opposed to racially neutral skills development; however, it cannot be located within the codes because it is already catered for somewhere else, and specifically the Skills Development Act has adequately provided for racially neutral skills development initiatives.

Consequently, it is too early for South Africa to even talk of a sunset clause in these matters, which we deem national imperatives that are aimed largely to close the racial divide; and yes we do believe that that time will come somewhere in the future.

We therefore call upon the department to withdraw such endorsement and further implore it to continue to champion the implementation and monitoring of the deracialisation of the economy.

The Black Business Council will continue to play a stewardship as a partner of the government representing the broader black community in this regard.

We will be making further submissions during the public hearings next month as we believe the amendment of the BBBEE Act is an opportune window to bring about market certainty and less ambiguity in the application and implementation of BEE in South Africa.

If necessary we would be willing to further engage the broader public on this matter.

Xolani Qubeka

CEO, Black Business Council