A cure for black-business blues


National and provincial African National Congress (ANC) leaders feel assured that alternative governance is the way to break the black empowerment deadlock in the Western Cape

Dr Zweli Mkhize, ANC Treasurer General and member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) and Marius Fransman, Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation and ANC provincial leader in the Western Cape, met with members of the newly formed Western Cape chapter of the Progressive Professionals Forum (PPF), barely a month after it was launched to assuage fears that the ANC has not got the province’s interests at heart.

“There is a growing resentment by young black professionals that the ANC has not got the province’s interests at heart,” said Mark Ahrens, one of the many black business people, mainly from the construction and ICT industry at the meeting who said they felt like ‘refugees’ in the Western Cape.

According to Ahrens, who was backed by other concerned professionals, black business has declined since the Democratic Alliance (DA) became the governing party in the province and PPF members say they have been excluded, especially by the Department of Public Works from building projects and set-aside projects, as large construction companies have taken over contracts to build government structures.

Bulelwa Maki, secretary of the PPF said black professionals struggle to get access to grants as the DA refuses to use national government grants, saying that they are for rural communities. “The principal issue is that black professionals do not want to leave the Western Cape and want the same benefits (from provincial government) as in other provinces.”

The ANC is keen to overturn these fears of exclusion in the province by fast tracking alternative governance projects in the Western Cape in the lead up to next year’s general elections. Mkhize made it clear that national government must listen to businesses and draw them into dialogue.

“I hear what you are saying and the only way forward is for black business to be in continual dialogue with national government as it (ANC) must come to the party in issues such as these,” he said.

Mkhize asked why black professionals and ANC members are not publically raising these issues in the media. “Why are you keeping quiet about these issues? It is not all gloom and doom in South Africa – Goldman Sachs has just published a report analysing the country’s management over the last 20 years. We are proud of our record as we created four million jobs over the past ten years and created a new middle class of 10 million people. That’s lots of good.”

Mkhize explained that the NEC took the decision that the public sector needs private sector cooperation in order to form cooperatives. “In South Africa and particularly with regard to the private sector we need to collectively manage the transition to alternative governance, as currently increasing poverty is causing more polarisation, more inequality and more instability, especially with the youth who we need to be engaging with in these discussions.”

Kashif Wicomb, deputy president of the PPF said that in the Western Cape mindset is the problem. “The mindset is that if you are black you are not capable of undertaking professional jobs – blacks have to continually explain themselves.”

He said the DA’s view of BEE (black economic empowerment) is condescending and bigoted, adding that the DA cannot envisage a system in which black people can use their talents and flourish to the extent of becoming billionaires, “for example, why is it that there are only four percent black women in a billion rand construction industry?”

Fransman commented that in order to get capacity, a strategy is needed to connect governance with black professionals to see what they can offer and what opportunities are available.

He said he is aware of problems with municipalities that are adverse to development. “I have picked up issues regarding projects in Mamre, where the Korean government is interested in rural development and projects in Atlantis where these municipalities are against private developments.

“The question is how does the private sector put forward development plans without them falling into the hands of the municipalities and being hijacked? We also need to ask the question – at what point do we hand over a project to a municipality to manage?”

Regarding alternative governance projects, Fransman explained that while the Africa National Congress does not have control of the Western Cape and has limits to its powers regarding black empowerment in the province, the ANC is forming partnerships with South African and international stakeholders and possible funders of projects, such as the Mamre and Clanwilliam dam economic upliftment projects where local black professionals can benefit.

“We are holding small group talks with Asian politicians, as well as with the Malaysian Minister of Domestic Economy. We are also looking at forming a co-operative bank (for funding) in this province. You may ask where the ANC takes this. We can’t take it forward politically, so we need the credibility of forums such as the PPF to take projects like this forward,” said Fransman.

He also feels confident that the ANC in the Western Cape can bring together people from countries in the African Diaspora to put together co-operative programmes in the province. Fransman gave details of the expenditure needed to raise the Clanwilliam dam wall, in the Oliphants/Doring catchment area that would cost R2 billion to build. “If we use a cooperative to upgrade the dam wall we could put 300 new black farmers in place over a 100 km radius.”

The project involves raising the dam wall by 13 metres. According to a feasibility study done in 2007, this project is technically and financially viable. The project involves extending the dam wall on the downstream side and then raising it to a higher level. By raising the dam, there could be a further 69.5 million cubic metres of water available per annum, which would provide an opportunity to establish new black farmers in an area where 70 percent of the households live on less than R3 500 per month.

Fransman also said that discussions are underway with the Department of Water Affairs and the Department of Rural Development regarding the proposed Koekenaap Wind Energy facility near Lutzville. Both these projects would not only benefit new black farmers but would also benefit black owned businesses in high end construction projects.

During November, embassies from the Middle East and Asia took part in a three-day trade mission, engaging with national and provincial government. Fransman said the ANC co-hosted visits to Guguletu in Cape Town with the PPF to view three high end upgrading projects valued at R1 billion, as well as  visiting the Saldanha Bay industrial development zone and Clanwilliam dam.

Fransman threw down the gauntlet to the PPF regarding an upcoming trip to Angola to discuss alternative governance with its leaders. “I am inviting the PPF to take up the challenge and to join the delegation to Angola. We need participants at PPF level in promulgating alternative governance and I am asking you to put your fears aside and push up the momentum in taking up the challenge, as we need your input and expertise.” 


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