Opening Address by President Jacob Zuma to the inaugural meeting of the President's Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Council

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Presidential Guest House, Pretoria

4 February 2010

Read on his behalf by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe

Honourable Ministers,
Honourable Council Members,
Senior officials,

Warm Greetings to you all!

Let me first express my gratitude for this opportunity to address the inaugural meeting of the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Advisory Council.

We met with Black Business and Black professionals in Johannesburg in July last year, as part of strengthening partnerships in the socio-economic and political transformation of our country.

Amongst the critical issues they raised was the need for us to speed up the process of establishing the BBBEE Council. We are pleased that we were able to do this by December.

You will recall that in the 2009 State of the Nation Address, we emphasized that we would promote a more inclusive economy.

We said we would utilise state levers such as procurement, licensing and financial support to assist small medium enterprises. We added that we would promote the implementation of Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment and affirmative action policies. We said this would be done in recognition of the need to correct the imbalances of the past.

The transformation will be undertaken in support of women, youth and people with disabilities. We have a team of men and women with the right expertise and experience to enable us to deal with these matters.

The legislation that has given birth to this Council places it at the centre of our efforts to bring about the economic transformation of our society.

The BBBEE Act calls upon you, as members of the Council, to:
"X Advise government on black economic empowerment;
"X Review progress in achieving black economic empowerment;
"X Advise on draft codes of practice which the Minister of Trade and Industry intends publishing for comment in terms of 9(5) of the Act;
"X Advise on the development, amendment or replacement of the strategy on black economic empowerment;
"X If requested to do so, advise on draft transformation charters;
"X Facilitate partnerships between organs of state and the private sector that will advance the objectives of the legislation on BBBEE; and
"X Considering these functions of the Council, it is important once again to affirm the important role it is expected to play in the economic transformation of our country.

We should always keep in mind that you have been appointed as members of this Council in order to advance a cause that is bigger than ourselves or the constituencies from which we may have been drawn.

Members of the Council are asked to advise government on measures it should take to promote economic transformation in order to enable meaningful participation of black people in the economy.

Because of this broad mandate of the Council, we have to ensure that it conducts its business in a manner that does not expose it to perceptions or charges that it is a narrow interest group. The Council has to make sure that it provides advice to government that is well informed, accurate and seek to advance the cause of broad-based economic transformation of our society.

This Council takes up its duties at the critical moment in the history of our country. Our society is four years short from turning 20 years as a free and democratic republic. I am sure that all of us would agree that some progress has been made in empowering those sections of our society that were previously excluded and marginalised. There are more black and women entrepreneurs today than there were in 1994.

There are more CEOs of companies who are black and female than was the case at the dawn of our democracy. And yet we have to acknowledge that there have been pitfalls along the way. The speed of economic transformation, we have to admit, has been frustratingly slow at times.

The percentage of black-owned companies registered at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange is disappointingly low. Similarly, there is still a small percentage of black and female managers who occupy the top and middle management levels of private and public organisations in our society.

We also have to admit that the ¡Øbroad-based¡¦ part of BEE has seemed elusive. In the main, the story of black economic empowerment in the last 15 years has been a story dominated by a few individuals benefiting a lot.

The vast majority of those who are truly marginalised: women, rural poor, workers, the unemployed, and the youth have often stood have often stood at the sidelines. Only a few benefit again and again from the bounty of black economic empowerment.

This is a state of affairs that can no longer be tolerated. Broad-based economic empowerment should achieve exactly what it means. It should benefit all sectors of the target group.

This may mean that we look at black economic empowerment beyond business deals and shareholding in companies.

We have to think creatively about ways in which, to quote from the BBBEE Act, we can increase ¡the extent to which communities, workers, cooperatives and other collective enterprises own and manage existing and new enterprises and increasing their access to economic activities, infrastructure and skills training¡".
To draw from the BBBEE Act again, we have to come up with strategies of ¡empowering rural and local communities by enabling [their] access to economic activities, land, infrastructure, ownership and skills¡".

If we broaden the meaning of black economic empowerment in this way, the measure of success will also have to change. It can no longer be satisfactory to only count the number of black millionaires and billionaires, important as that is.

Fundamentally, we have to constantly strive towards making sure that more people are employed in decent jobs.

We must ensure that more are able to start and sustainably run their small businesses. More must be enrolled in skills training and more should have access to arable land.

This is the cause of black economic empowerment that I want us to focus on in the next four years, leading up to our 20th anniversary as a thriving democracy.

Let me be clear: we are not here suggesting that it is wrong for black people to be wealthy. On the contrary, what we are proposing is prosperity for all rather for a few.

This is because we strongly believe that the success and future of this society lie in our ability to share widely the benefits of collective labours and our prosperity.

We are also aware that there is a section of our society that is opposed to black economic empowerment.

It is tempting to dismiss their concerns as misinformed at best and malicious at worst. It would however be a mistake to dismiss such concerns outright without carefully considering them.

However, the critics must accept that the exclusion of a large section of our community from productive participation in the economic life of our society, is a significant hindrance to our collective prosperity.

Our prosperity will be delayed if the vast majority our people, especially the youth remain without jobs or skills.
Our economy will also not reach its potential as long as the vast majority of its people lack the economic power to buy goods and services, to start businesses as entrepreneurs or till their land as successful farmers.

This is therefore a collective challenge we face as a society. The choice we make about how we address it will shape the direction this society takes for many years to come.

I would like to urge that because our collective future depends on the proper implementation of BEE, we should actively guard against its abuse or the making of mistakes in its implementation.

Moreover, we should ensure that as we criticise, we propose solutions to the problems we identify.

Let me reiterate, in conclusion, the point I made at the beginning. The Council we are here to inaugurate carries in its shoulders one of the most serious tasks facing this society.

It is entrusted to advise government¡Xand therefore society as whole¡Xon the strategies it needs to implement to ensure that the vast majority of our people become productive participants in the economic life of our country.

In this respect, the Council carries the hopes and aspirations of our society. On behalf of government, I wish you the best of luck in this important endeavour.

I thank you.