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2nd August 2020

Mandela Day: What the Passings of Nelson, Winnie, and Zindzi Taught South Africa on Transformation

Image of Mandela Capture Site by Ashim D’Silva

Public reaction to the passing of each prominent member of the Mandela family has clarified voter sentiment on race-based economic redress policy.  This is seen in discussions about what each of these Mandelas stood for and the economic atmosphere at the time.


When former President Nelson Mandela passed away in December 2013, the world remembered him as someone who forgave his jailers and helped forge a negotiated settlement that allowed South Africa to enjoy democracy.  But he left the question of economic redress to be addressed through policy instruments like Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE), which went on to have a word-cloud association of crony capitalism, cadre deployment, corruption, fronting and the enrichment of a politically connected elite.


What businesses in South Africa need to note is the faction of the ruling party that had undermined B-BBEE turned around and blamed lack of transformation on “white monopoly capital”.  Using populism, they pushed “radical economic transformation” as what should have been implemented from the start.  This scapegoating of investors, though creating great risk to the economy, resonated so deeply with underprivileged South Africans that Zakes Mda commented on “an increasingly vocal segment of black South Africans who feel that Mandela sold out the liberation struggle to white interests”.  This segment, though not yet as big as it would become, was “loud enough in its vehemence to warrant attention”.


After Winnie passed, the reaction was clearer: some segments of society cast aspersions on what she did, organising against the old regime, but others defended her by saying, “She didn’t die: she multiplied”.  Her defiant spirit would not fade but seize the national mood, and this would affect how the public responds to business South Africa today.  At the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Winnie Mandela refused to perform the contriteness expected of her because she foresaw the destabilisation of the country due to the process being used as a band-aid, not addressing the question of race-based economic redress.


The circumstances around Zindzi Mandela’s demise mirror those of her early youth.  She was 18 months old when her father was arrested on charges of treason; she was 6o when she passed just days before Nelson Mandela Day, the 18th of July.  The time she spent with him before his arrest was as limited as the number of people who’ll be allowed at her funeral.  At the time of Zindzi Mandela’s birth, the military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe, was piloting sabotage attempts against the government of the time.  The cadres who once served on it are now in charge of our parastatals, but they never stopped sabotaging.


In his inauguration speech before royals and ambassadors, Nelson Mandela said, “Never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.  The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement!”  The sun setting on his youngest daughter’s life bookends the “long walk to freedom” with the moment he was arrested.  Let us compare 1962 with 2020 to see how “so glorious a human achievement” could not only have the sun set on it, but struggle to produce even a “new dawn”.  The cadres who started sabogating state-owned enterprises in 1962 (and today), and the owners of an economy that prioritized white people, have one thing in common: they abuse B-BBEE because they know that practiced properly, it would advance Nelson Mandela’s vision for South Africa to the point of making them redundant.  Real democracy would exist, but as things stand white people who are racist, 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.  The Gupta “state capture” scandal and the Zondo Commission showed us examples of these unlikely bedfellows, racists and politically-connected black elites, cooperating to sabotage the economy.  Because again, if inclusive economic growth happened, they would be left out of it.  They contribute nothing but propaganda through agencies like Bell Pottinger, and make Nelson Mandela’s Rainbow Nation sound like a mockery of black people’s economic exclusion.  


The abuse of B-BBEE is not the only reason, but is definitely part of the reason that Employment Equity statistics from the Department of Labour, reports from the B-BBEE Commission, Statistics SA and the composition of the companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange reflect lack of transformation after 26 years of democracy.  Politically-connected gate-keepers want to make transformation compliance difficult, but without legitimate broad-based inclusion of capable black people, the economy will not grow.  The antidote to corruption (which grows by abusing transformation) is commitment to meaningful transformation.


For Mandela Day, businesses would do well to commit to legitimate transformation, both for their own sustainability and the broader economy.  Businesses cannot exist without countries, and the country Nelson Mandela envisioned has an inclusive, growing economy.  


Contact us today and we can show you how your business can meaningfully implement transformation legislation to influence everything described above.  

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.