For as long as black businesses work in silos and lack a culture of supporting one another and focus on creating wealth for the many and not the few, it is difficult to see how programmes such as BEE can meaningfully advance black economic empowerment.

This is the view of businessman and veteran journalist and former editor and publisher of publications, Dr Thami Mazwai, who spoke exclusively to Sunday World last week.

Mazwai also lamented the fact that the country might be groping in the dark in terms of understanding what strides have been made in comprehending where the bottlenecks that hinder black economic development might be in “our black economic development project”.

He said this was the case because there are no reliable figures or statistics to point the country to what progress has been made to economically advance the poor majority.

Mazwai said to walk in the dark, which is equivalent to not having recorded data to measure progress, was unacceptable and not helpful in measuring whether the BEE project was succeeding in dealing with questions of poverty, inequality and unemployment, the three elements the programme purports to address.

Mazwai also pointed out that for as long as the BEE programme was not enforced and monitored with hawk-like eyes, and “made a must”, no discernible black economic development will take place, or become realisable.

Mazwai argued that some of the bugbears that have been a hindrance or a stumbling block to black economic development and the creation of wealth and huge corporations in black townships and villages have been the inability to “fully exploit social capital”, which by implication manifests itself in pooling of all resources, with black business working, under the umbrella of BEE, together to create wealth beneficial to all South Africans, particularly the African people.

Mazwai suggested such culture of division, detrimental to real black economic development, has its roots in the “divide and rule practices sponsored in the past eras of oppressive and dispossession by the cruel systems of colonialism and apartheid.

 “This is our biggest problem, but it is understandable; it flows from our past. There was a system affecting black society, which was the apartheid system that divided black people, which today manifests in many defects including our failure to appreciate the value of social capital which is not great in our society,’ he said.

Mazwai said such human deficit as displayed in lack of social capital, has found an expression in failures of the BEE project, and that until black people find a solution to address the problem and learn to cooperate and work together, black economic development will remain a stifled idea and not a concrete reality manifest in measurable real black economic development outcomes.

He argued that the triple challenges of poverty, inequality, and unemployment, must be tackled differently and in a more nuanced and fact-based approach, rather than in general terms without having proper and audited data or statistics to “correct the imbalances of apartheid and colonialism disparities”.

“If we disregard social capital, we are not going to make progress,” he said.

Mazwai’s point of departure is that the BEE left to its own devices should hardly be seen as a good enough economic tool to enhance black entrepreneurship if it is not accompanied by the right skills, and people committed to honestly and truthfully geared towards driving the stated goals of black economic agenda of spreading wealth among all people of the country, as opposed to tenderpreneurship obsession that has been pervasive since its inception.

“Black economic empowerment has not been implemented as a must, and so there is no compliance, and so there will be no difference [made] when there is no compliance,” he said.

Mazwai, who holds a doctoral degree in business, and during the struggle years was a leader of a media trade union, and an ex-Robben Island political prisoner, said black people would need to forgo the idea of “personalising entrepreneurship”, including working in silos, but rather reducing it to normal business activity in which the many participate so as to derive success in efforts of creating wealth.

“We must identify and deal with BEE shortcomings, and recognise black people with aspirations and abilities to succeed, support them, not simply because they are black, but because they are driven by the entrepreneurship spirit and are determined to be drivers of entrepreneurship,” he said.

Of importance towards success as black entrepreneurs, it is imperative that township and village businesses brace themselves to compete with outsiders because “we live in a global village”, he said.