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For Black Lives to Matter, Black Economic Empowerment Has To Matter

Image by Mike Von, Cropped

The deaths of George Floyd, Collins Khoza and Elijah McClain (among others) have returned “Black Lives Matter” to public consciousness during the global pandemic. We can’t protect democracy and our collective economic existence unless we view these instances of armed force brutality as the continuation of the past, responding with economic cross-racial solidarity.


Trevor Noah and NBA player, LeBron James, recently shared a sweary video where Kimberly Jones offers commentary on the protests in the U.S. “When you have a civil unrest like this there are three types of people on the streets,” she explains. These are the protesters, the rioters and the looters. She then asks why the financial gap between poor black people and everyone else is such, the former jump through broken glass windows to get things. “Why are people that poor, that broke, that food-insecure and that clothing-insecure?”



Image by Andrew Donovan

She responds to the objection, “There’s plenty of people who pulled themselves up on their bootstraps and got it on their own; why can’t they do that?” with the reminder: “Economics was the reason that black people were brought to this country.” Black people were enslaved for agricultural work in the south and textile in the north. This setup, Jones compares to playing 400 rounds of Monopoly on behalf of the person you’re playing against, after which you have 50 rounds to catch up but get set back via massacres like those in black centres of economic wealth (e.g. Tulsa, Rosewood).


Without reparations in its own borders, America’s anti-apartheid position was seen by some as hypocrisy sugar-coating the global West’s unbalanced economic practices. Those practices’ scale and influence were why South Africa would contemplate affirmative action for its racial majority. While structural racism is viewed as isolated in countries, others understand it as the modus operandi of “free markets” that evade having their wealth traced back to old regimes’ economic practices. Why do the U.S. Dollar and the Pound Sterling have more buying power than the South African Rand? We have Cyril Ramaphosa while they have Boris Johnson and Donald Trump; they had Barack Obama while we had Jacob Zuma. Investors seem likelier to take risks on white-majority countries than on black-majority countries regardless the calibre of their leadership. As a result, Bonang Mohale (seemingly paraphrasing Advocate Thuli Madonsela) writes, “The colour of Covid-19, like poverty, is primarily black and feminine.” He cites the Office for National Statistics’ report that black women are 4.3 times more likely to die with Covid-19 than white women.


If we don’t use policy instruments to fix structural and racial inequality, the economy will be collapsed by those whose lives are deprived of meaningful participation by uniformed lockdown enforcers on the one hand, the virus on the other and poverty every day.


Eusebius Mckaiser explains that Collins Khosa’s death is connected to the conditions protested by the Black Lives Matter movement, saying racism is so ubiquitous that it motivates our black-led government’s violence against black people. “De-racializing our laws and allowing everyone civil and political rights in 1994 mattered morally to signal a profound break from the past. But the limitations of a normative vision is now plain for all to see; a vision for a better tomorrow means nothing if the intrinsic features of your colonial state, including the racist violence it metes out, isn’t changed.”


Image by Thomas Allsop

He explains that colonialism and apartheid hijack the democratic project whenever democratically elected politicians perform anti-black politics. “Black-on-black violence is built upon a racist psychology”, and, “These brutal killing machines are the equivalent of pre-1994 black cops doing the bidding of the Nats.” 


Internalised and systemic racism co-opted and corrupted the word-cloud association around Black Economic Empowerment. The enrichment of politically-connected black elites, through redress legislation, is a function of those black elites having internalised anti-black racism. How else do we explain politically-connected black elites repeatedly prospering while black people are beaten in townships like apartheid never ended? The impostor syndrome of the elites makes them take the place of the oppressor. Therefore, the only way to effectively address the legacy of apartheid is to put broad-based black economic empowerment back in Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment. The longer we take to do that, the more opportunity we give corrupt factions of the ruling party to make B-BBEE unimplementable and then use populist rhetoric on constituencies (who have no other point of access to the economy) to present themselves as the political solution. 


Racist white people and politically-connected black elites (“cadre deployment”) have mediocrity in common. That’s why they both want BEE to be mis-implemented and abused until it leaves a sour taste in people’s mouths: racists gain the uneven playing field that makes them look excellent, and black elites use that to justify populist slogans like expropriation without compensation and nationalisation — and they still have the chutzpah to lay the blame solely at the white minority’s feet.


And if a desperate black minority can do what we’re seeing in the midst of the U.S’s white majority, what could a desperate black majority do in a country where whites are the minority, and why isn’t that minority pressuring business to use existing legislation to pre-empt the kind of fallout we’ve seen overseas?

Siya Khumalo
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Siya Khumalo
Siya Khumalo
After being reprimanded at a genteel dinner party for “talking about religion, politics and sex in polite company,” Siya Khumalo decided to do nothing else with his life. He charts out the socio-economic ramifications of how we move through these three areas by writing political commentary and making vlogs (“video blogs”). Some of his posts get half a million global reads in less than a week; other pieces get featured on Daily Maverick, Rand Daily Mail and other publications, attracting interviews on eNCA, PowerFM and similar media channels. He seemed an experimental fit for BEE Novation, and he has a book about to hit a shelf near you. His views on how day-to-day business and political events affect the transformation and BEE landscapes will be available on the BEE Novation website.