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17 MARCH 2012
Why I said the Black Business Council is racist

by Bheki Sibiya: Chief Executive Officer of Chamber of Mines.

As an ardent supporter of the principles and objectives enshrined in our constitution, I believe all South Africans should share a commitment to thoroughly eliminating the divisive effects of racialism that for so long ravaged our country and caused so much hostility and hardship.

Delivering what is widely considered to be his finest speech, Martin Luther King asserted: "I have a dream that my four little children will live in a country where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream that one day all of God’s people will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood."

These words have been an enduring inspiration to all people who find offence with racist practices and policies. The guidance I have extracted from them is to a large extent what led me last week to describe the Black Business Council (BBC) as a racist organisation. It is an observation that has predictably provoked controversy and I have been asked where I derived the moral authority to say what I did and why.

In addition to adhering to the powerful ethical messages embodied in King’s immortal words, there are several other explanations. SA is, thank goodness, a constitutional democracy. One of the key pillars of our democracy, enshrined in chapter one of the constitution, is nonracialism. My opinion is that all South Africans should promote everything that our constitution stands for and be prepared to criticise and condemn anything that presents potential to undermine the constitution.

To form a racially based organisation now, more than 17 years after the advent of our democracy, is wrong and should not be accepted or condoned regardless of how influential or powerful its founders may be.

Do my comments mean that I oppose the principles of freedom of association and disassociation? Most emphatically not. What I do oppose, however, is the promotion, even by some unsuspecting Cabinet ministers, of an association that is primarily based on race.

The BBC’s battle cry, "Black man you are on your own with your government," is dangerous. Since when is the government supposed to be so openly partisan?

Business Unity SA (Busa) has many weaknesses and imperfections: its mandating processes are poor, its structure is top heavy and it frequently struggles to deal effectively with the critically important issue of transformation.

In spite of these frailties, Busa does have some notable strengths. Nonracism is a critical component of its constitution. Right from the beginning, and I know this as its founding CE, Busa embraced the concept that for it to be most effective, the organisation should, ideally, be black led, at both the CE and at presidential levels. That is why, in its short nine years of existence, Busa has benefited from the leadership talents of Patrice Motsepe, Brian Molefe and current president Futhi Mtoba. These are people South Africans have confirmed as excellent leaders.

I thus found it disappointing that Lawrence Mavundla, president of BBC member the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce, elected to attack Busa and some of the leaders of its non racial member organisations.

The BBC must be encouraged to identify its agenda and pursue it. In doing so, it is my hope that Busa will diligently support having the BBC represented directly in the National Economic Development and Labour Council as this will remove obstructions to the operations of the organisation.

Whether the BBC succeeds or fails, SA is worse off for its establishment as it promotes racial polarisation and, in the context of our country’s constitution, its formation represents a step backwards.

Faced with major challenges and oppression at the time of the Rivonia trial, Nelson Mandela argued as follows: "I have fought against white domination, I have fought against black domination. I have cherished an ideal of a society in which all people live together in harmony. It is an ideal I shall work for and hopefully achieve. If it need be, My Lord, it is the ideal for which I am prepared to die."

I understand the frustrations that many black business organisations have with Busa but I cannot bring myself to support efforts to overcome them that abrogate the cardinal intention so clearly expressed in chapter one of our country’s constitution as well the axiomatic commitments to non racialism so fervently held by inspirational leaders such as King and Mandela.
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