Earlier this month Accelerate Cape Town reconvened its ‘Inspiration Session’ engagements after a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
An open forum, for both members and non-members alike, it provided the opportunity for representatives of Western Cape business to tackle head-on the, at times, contentious topic of Inclusive Social Justice.
Guest speakers for the evening included Zinzi Mgolodela – Woolworths SA Director of Corporate Affairs and Chairperson of the Restitution Foundation; and Dr Wilhelm Verwoerd – Senior Researcher at the Centre for the Study of the Afterlife of Violence and the Reparative Quest (AVReQ), Stellenbosch University and the grandson of Hendrik Verwoerd, known as the architect of the apartheid regime.
Sponsored by Allan Gray and held at their premises in the V&A Waterfront on Thursday, 4th August; a diverse group of employees and business leaders joined in the evening’s authentic discussions on this important topic.
At the start of the evening’s discussions, Ryan Ravens, Accelerate Cape Town CEO said, “Despite the introduction of Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) almost 20 years ago, to address the inequalities suffered under the apartheid regime and to create an inclusive economy, a recent World Bank Report indicates South Africa as the most unequal country in the world. In fact, President Ramaphosa himself recently stated, “We have gone backwards when it comes to increasing black management control, upscaling skills development, entrenching enterprise development and broadening procurement to give opportunities to black women and the youth.”
“B-BBEE clearly has not worked to achieve the necessary social transformation, as the B-BBEE framework has become de-humanised and focused only on quantitative measures,” continued Ravens. This is further evidenced by the Sanlam Gauge Report , which provides a well-researched, holistic measurement of economic transformation in South Africa in order to unpack what is working, and what isn’t. Investigating the B-BBEE scorecards of no fewer than 10,000 companies it found that, except for the socio-economic development pillar, most companies are struggling to meet their targets.
“Historical inequalities are threatening to rip the very fabric of our society apart,” stressed Ravens. “We need to urgently address this. But how do we achieve it? How do we move closer towards inclusive social justice rather than mere B-BBEE compliance?”
As shameful as it is that B-BBEE and forced compliance were needed in order to address our past, Mgolodela nevertheless agreed that it has not gone far enough. “Its original intent of promoting inclusivity and an equal South Africa by enabling the financial participation of black citizens has not been met,” she said.
“In Ramaphosa’s recent address, he stated that breaking the cycle of economic underdevelopment is not just moral, but also makes financial sense. If B-BBEE makes financial sense, why has business not embraced it?” asked Mgolodela. Sharing the model of maturity levels within transformation, Mgolodela discussed the distinct phases of transformation over the years from compliance through to a framework representing a far more integrated system. “Sustainable transformation is possible when companies realise the need for integrated strategies monitored by this framework.”
“We need to find our WHY, and that will differ from company to company. And the WHY does not need to be removed from the financial sense it makes,” stressed Mgolodela. “Transformation is human-centric. It is about humanity, but it is also about economic growth and business sustainability. Businesses cannot operate in communities and economies that are not functioning or growing. To flourish and be sustainable, South Africa needs its citizens to be empowered as employees and consumers. Excluding a large portion of our population from the economy only serves to restrain growth, and that is not sustainable. This is the WHY that business needs to comprehend. And it is then that transformation and inclusive social justice will become the business of business.”
Speaking to the human element, so intricately intertwined and essential to South Africa’s transformation, Verwoerd touched on humanity’s natural tendency to avoid discomfort.
“We also do not always want to face up to the responsibility of the action we need to take in order to right the wrongs of yesteryear, tragically so often ongoing.” He stressed the need to enter into honest and vulnerable discussions with people who do not look like us.
“We will never transition forward as a country if we, as white South Africans, do not comprehend that we have been born into communities with extensive privileges – the systemic flow of what apartheid and racism is about,” he stressed. “We need to create more honest spaces where people are willing to face the uncomfortable truth, not to individualize it but rather to accept that we have been beneficiaries over so many generations and are still benefitting.”
“We need to raise our consciousness, awareness and historical understanding; focus on capacity building and cultivate communities of support,” continued Verwoerd. “And we need to understand that true transformation is a long journey, one requiring the commitment of business and society alike.”