Approach transformation through nation building programs

Herman Mashaba was awarded the Rotary Achiever of the Year Award for 2014. In his acceptance speech he spoke about the need for transformation but that this need must come through nation-building programs and incentive-driven activities rather than punitive acts. Below are parts of this speech.

By Herman Mashaba
Herman MashabaAffirmative action was legislated to redress black participation in the economy. Its intentions were admirable and noble, but its enactment has become very troublesome to me. Troublesome because it is bringing back racist policies to our statute books. It wasn’t okay to have racist economic policies during apartheid, and it isn’t okay to have racist economic policies now. To build an effective workforce, we must eradicate race from the equation – everybody must be given a chance to work if they want to and if they are qualified to do so. Simply allocating jobs specifically according to race is regrettably racist. If we want to build an effective labour force, we must concentrate on improving education and training so that we have employees who are capable of achieving jobs on merit, not on the colour of their skins. This is not a sustainable policy and it is not the inclusive economy envisaged in 1994.

I fully support the transformation of our economy to reflect our citizens’ needs, to redress the damage caused by apartheid, but I urge us to approach such transformation through nation-building programs – incentive-driven activities rather than punitive acts.

Another point of contention is our minimum wage enforcement. These minimum wage policies have created a vast population of unemployed South Africans. The minimum wage has taken away a person’s right to negotiate what they are willing to work for. Unemployed people shouldn’t have their willingness to work circumvented by what the government determines is fair. It precludes them from earning for their families and strips them of their dignity.

It is unacceptable to be prescriptive in wage negotiations. It forces companies who cannot afford the wages to either mechanize or not employ at all, and the economy permanently lose those jobs that might otherwise would have gone to unskilled workers who would have been given the opportunity to learn a trade and move up the employment ladder. Nobody wants to work for a low wage, but most unemployed see a lowly paid job as a stepping-stone into employment, from where they will improve their skills and their wages. The government’s minimum wage policy denies them this opportunity.

In the same way that apartheid sought to enslave blacks economically, so too is the Government enslaving blacks through their tripartite alliance with the labour unions and the SACP. The government seeks to appease labour and capitalists at the same time. It is not viable for Government to make laws that protect the labour aspect of their tripartite alliance.

The government must create an environment that is conducive to business growth, instead of creating an environment that complicates it. If government legislation makes it difficult for SMEs to exist by over-regulating business, by imposing a minimum wage, and by excluding certain groups from employment, it is not facilitating economic growth. This type of legislation is contrary to the employment freedom guaranteed in our Constitution.

One of the proposed policies that will destroy South Africa is that of expropriating agricultural land. The proposed appropriation of agriculture is an issue that needs serious consideration. The government’s proposal to appropriate farms will create uncertainty and fear, and ultimately destroy South Africa’s agricultural industry, and our food security. South Africa’s priority should be poverty alleviation – appropriating farms will not alleviate poverty, it will further exacerbate the plight of the starving poor. We only have to look at the Zimbabwean situation to see what expropriation of land has resulted in. Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of Southern Africa, but now they cannot even feed themselves. If the our government insists on appropriating agricultural land, it will result in South Africans having to import our food, making it unaffordable to the already poor of our country.

Land reform is necessary, but the land reform strategy needs to be undertaken in a mature and controlled way. Instead of alarming our food providers, let’s consider using the vast tracts of state-owned land that are under-utilised. Why don’t we consider using free market principles to create the right environment for a successful agricultural sector? The harsh reality is that if we proceed with an ill-devised plan to appropriate agricultural land to facilitate land reform, the agricultural sector will be destroyed. The economy will be destroyed. And most concerning of all, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to resuscitate our agricultural sector, making the cost of basic necessities well beyond the means of the poor.

In much the same way that I had to find ways to work the system, employees and employers are finding a way to work the system, resulting in even less protection for employees. The government’s current policies are not working, and in no way do they protect the unemployed, who the government is mandated to protect. Over-regulated businesses are necessarily finding a way around the rules, whereas if the government allowed employers and employees to contract freely, then the government could better serve the employed by ensuring that their conditions of employment are complied with.

It’s 21 years since the attainment of our hard-fought democracy. Let us admit, South Africa is a better country than it used to be under apartheid. We have a constitution hailed as the most progressive in the world. We have demonstrated our tenacity by successfully running free and fair elections over this period of our freedom. Our success going forward is totally dependent on all of us South Africans to always demand an accountable, caring and sensitive Government. We need active citizenship, in particular by the privileged members of our society. We need to demonstrate to our less-privileged fellow South African that we also care about their plight.

* Herman Mashaba recently spoke to Tim Modise on discussing BEE, labour reforms and the state of the country’s education system.