SUNDAY TIMES - Sowing the seeds of real change
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Sunday Times Opinion By Andile Khumalo , 2017-03-12 00:00:00.0

Sowing the seeds of real change

At this week's meeting of parliament's standing committee on public accounts, IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa asked Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini a simple question. Her reply revealed much more than she intended to.

Hlengwa asked whether Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) was BEE compliant, given that as far as he knew it was a subsidiary of Net1 UEPS Technologies, a "white-owned, American-owned" company.

Then the astute EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, having insisted that CPS was not BEE-compliant, wanted to know why the minister was in negotiations with the company if she, like her party, believed in radical economic transformation.

What followed was a thing of beauty - and I say that with huge sarcasm.

"The issues of BEE compliance I think were discussed in court previously. I think it was raised amongst the matters of BEE compliance and then issues of radical economic transformation, that's our agenda moving forward," the minister said.

"But I'd like to say," she continued, "as small as it is, social development has tried to use SRD [grants] through establishing cooperatives.

"Up to today we have close to 360 and when we have to deal with the issue of social relief of distress it's those cooperatives that make children's uniforms and then also for the SRD vegetable crops we buy from communities."

Hold on! The question was about the black shareholding of CPS and whether the leverage of a R10-billion government contract was used to progress its policy of radical economic transformation. How did we get to sewing school uniforms? What does growing vegetables have to do with radical economic transformation?

Our minister wasn't quite done.

"If you ask us about radical economic transformation and this tender, I think when we signed we never had that programme in mind."

So, according to Dlamini, the ANC has only recently discovered the concept of radical economic transformation and for this reason the policy didn't feature in the R10-billion CPS contract.

My annual date with the industrious Gautengfinance MEC, Barbara Creecy, as she tabled the 2017-2018 budget for South Africa's most economically active province, provided a sharp contrast.

In her speech, she waxed lyrical about how the province is supporting small and medium enterprises, paying suppliers earlier in most departments. This time she also mentioned "supporting black industrialists" as part of the work the provincial government is doing.

I couldn't wait to ask her for examples, since the black-industrialist programme is the government's first real step towards implementing its radical economic transformation agenda - clearly something our minister of social development is not aware of.

Despite the black-industrialist programme's great intentions, it hasn't been great at showcasing its beneficiaries, with the result that many see the programme as all talk and no action. I was rubbing my hands with glee when I put that to the MEC.

Creecy's response was the stuff of champions - and I say that with zero sarcasm.

She simply quoted me an example of a young man from Butterworth, in the Eastern Cape, who wanted to buy and operate a bus company.

Established in 1973, Busmark was a client of Patuxolo Nodada when he operated a seat-manufacturing business. When Nodada decided to make an offer to buy out his then client because, instead of supplying seats, he wanted to manufacture the first truly South African bus, he turned to the Industrial Development Corporation, where he raised the funds to acquire full control of the company, later handing 25% of it to staff and management.

"What Patuxolo has been doing is exactly what we talk about when we speak of black industrialists - somebody who is prepared to sacrifice to go in there and work hard, not on day one to want to become a CEO," said IDC CEO Geoffrey Qhena.

"We have backed him and he has been very consistent in terms of working hard. Business is not easy. We want people with a long-term view, and when he brought in the employees we embraced that because ensuring that workers are part of the business gives it a greater chance of succeeding. It has been a good project and we want to see him succeed even more."

Busmark is now the only company building the entire chassis of its buses here in South Africa.

That, my dear minister, is the difference between vegetable gardens and radical economic transformation.

Khumalo is chief investment officer of MSG Afrika and presents "Power Business" on Power 98.7 at 5pm, Monday to Thursday