By: Candice Kern-Thomas
In response to questions asked in parliament recently, SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni said her position at SAA is being construed as corruption when in fact it is transformation. Corruption and transformation cannot be synonymous as this will not only derail efforts of establishing an equitable society which South Africa so desperately needs, but it also gives detractors of transformation a reason to find fault with the ideology, methodology and process of implementation.
The best dictionary definition for corruption is: the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. Transformation on the other hand means a complete change in the appearance or character of something or someone, especially so that that thing or person is improved. In this instance, the “thing” that needs to be improved is our country. Lumping corruption and transformation together is not only opportunistic but also completely disingenuous because the pundits of this narrative use it as a means to reject the concept as unworkable or a red herring. Similarly, companies or individuals that use transformation as a get rich quick scheme or a vehicle for corruption are doing this country the greatest injustice as it serves to prolong the inevitable. It is true that transformation has been and is currently being used for nefarious purposes; however, this cannot be used as an excuse by companies not to implement transformation policies or to look for the easy way out when doing so.
There is a gross generalisation in South Africa that transformation means a hand out to black people. This is followed by actions that support this behaviour. South Africa has one of the highest gini coefficient ratios in the world, it is a ticking time bomb. The majority of black South Africans find themselves on the negative side of this ratio and in order to bring about balance, transformation is an absolute necessity. Without it, this country will implode. One just has to look at the recent unemployment figures to realise that this imbalance is unsustainable in the long term. The task of creating jobs cannot be the responsibility of government alone. Therefore, the overall attitude from corporates towards transformation is pivotal as this determines its pace of deployment.
When a manager has been tasked with implementing a transformation policy in a company and has the attitude that the beneficiaries of these policies are looking for nothing more than a hand out it makes the process much more cumbersome and arduous. This has a cascading effect because it means the champion of transformation ultimately won’t be in a position to convince other stakeholders in the company to buy into the policy. This leads to all sorts of issues starting with lack of will which translates into massive implementation road blocks including excuses around not finding suitably qualified suppliers, appropriate skills to fill key roles or worse fronting.
Conversely, there are always opportunists that are willing and able to be conduits of corruption for self-enrichment. This means that contracts are awarded to connected politicians, friends or families. Executive management and other positions are given to people without merit and unsuspecting or even complicit people become fronters. The results: become wealthier, a few black people attain wealth and the majority of black people stay poor. This is corruption, not transformation.
The solution to preventing the lines being blurred between corruption and transformation is very simple, transformation needs to be implemented in accordance with the spirit and intention of the B-BBEE Codes. If transformation is implemented correctly especially by corporate South Africa, we will indubitably see a very positive change in our GDP as social ills such as a lack of skills, unemployment and poverty will inevitably be diminished.
Transformation can only be implemented correctly if people become more educated with its objectives and alter their negative perceptions around it. A good way to begin this process is to actually take time to become acquainted with our country’s history and then read the legislation governing the transformation policies. Context is key in understanding another’s viewpoint. It is impossible to be armed with this knowledge and still hold negative perceptions around transformation. As our late great Leader Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Once equipped with the necessary knowledge, managers tasked with implementing transformation policies in a company will be able to effectively execute their duties with the right intentions and assist towards the improvement of our beautiful country and the lives of all its people.