Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, December 13, 2004

BEE: The US Investor Perspective
The American Chamber of Commerce SA recently concluded a study into the perceptions of US companies of investing in South Africa, and it found that there was "more concern over forced local equity than crime." 74% of respondents stated that BEE "negatively affected investment decisions" and Luanne Grant, director of AmCham, added that it "also received the single highest number of voluntary comments in the open-ended questions section - double that of the next cited question."

To me, this is nothing new, and probably would mirror most of the white business population. The key thing is though, is that it is impossible to look at BEE purely in a business or investment scope without seeking augmented justification from historical and social cues. BEE to me is a necessary evil. At present, a small group of big players are reaping much of the advantage and getting all the headlines, but BEE also creates opportunities for those that would be passed over under the status quo, and has been responsible for building a strong Black middle class.

There are simply too many undercurrents of racism left over from Apartheid in our older white (management-level) population. And please note before you all jump down my throat, this is not overt racism, but covert, unconscious racism. It's the nuance stuff, such as perceiving (perhaps even subconsciously) a Black person is somehow less intelligent because he or she doesn't enunciate in the 'Queens English'.

It’s exactly this kind of nuance that BEE aims to negate, and in my view, we would be weaker without it. Maybe not now, but definitely in a decade’s time. South Africans need to get used to seeing Black managers in CEO positions, Black youth need Black business role-models, and it’s what has to happen for us to build a stronger economy in the future. Yes, it’s not ideal at times, but it’s the best solution for the current development of our country, both economically and socially.