I had not planned to tell one of several hundred black people in a room that he was a racist arsehole. But I did.
I was attending the first day of the Black Industrialists’ Indaba, at the invitation of the dti. The speaker at the time was a timid lady, the mike was not working well, and I was finding it difficult to follow her speech. The problem was compounded by the people sitting right behind me, who were holding an animated conversation. After many minutes of this, I turned round and asked them to shush. To which the response was: “I don’t take orders from a white man.” Hence my response. The odds were that they would have been black, but that was not why I sought their silence.
Did I over-react? Possibly. There were a few dozen whites at the event and – we had been told – around 700 people in total. A good crowd, but then President Zuma was speaking, and there would be news on new funds for black businesspeople. Although I thought some of the speakers were a bit strident, the basic theme made sense. As Zuma said, there has been political transformation in ZA, but not real economic transformation. In giving new help to blacks, government was not being racist to whites. It was uprooting the heritage of the racist past.
As well as new funds of R1bn, existing government incentives were to be targeted more forcefully at black industrialists, with companies which have fallen behind the curve on BEE being excluded from the eligibility criteria.
Chatting to one of those closely involved in the empowerment and industrial debate (who is black and has perfect manners) we agreed that while the aim of promoting black industrialists – with at least 100 new ones being “created” in the next three years, this must not be a zero-sum game, with all the benefits being won by black industrialists coming at the expense of, mainly-white, existing firms. He said: “We must grow the economy, not just shift things around.”
And, of course, we must remember where the money is coming from for any enhanced support of black industrialists. Zuma again gave his (highly disputed) estimate that only 3% of the JSE is in black hands. And the whole rationale behind the new policy shift is to move the economy into more balance between black and white ownership. But, currently, the wealth and taxes of South Africa are predominately created and paid by whites, if we accept the government’s own arguments.
So let’s not be taken in by all the hype. The white knights in this instance are predominately white, for their taxes will foot the bill and they will be pushed further to the back of the line when seeking state incentives. We no longer expect black people to take orders from us, but they don’t seem too reluctant to take our cash.
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