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BEE. The initials stand for Black Economic Empowerment and the prospect thrilled many South Africans who had seen the wealth of their nation drained away during years of oppressive white rule.
Under the codes of BEE, set forth in 2007, the government pledged to redress apartheid’s economic disparities to ensure broader and meaningful participation for Blacks in the economy and achieve sustainable development and prosperity.
A decade on, and with unemployment at 27%, President Jacob Zuma has now vowed to take BEE to a higher level. “We need to do something to ignite the economy,” Zuma said in Parliament during a Q&A session.
Under a new Mining Charter, companies must be 30% black owned, up from the previous target of 26%. Fifty percent of their boards must have black representation of which 25% must be black females.
In respect of procurement, some 70% of all mining goods and 80% of mining services must be bought from black-owned companies while all mineral analysis needs to be conducted by black-controlled companies.
Mining companies have a year to raise black economic shareholding.
Not unexpectedly, the new charter fell with a thud at the door of the Chamber of Mines, which represents 90 percent of South Africa’s mines. Mine owners, in a 274-page affidavit, expressed vehement opposition to the revisions.
“In summary,” they wrote, “the 2017 Charter represents a most egregious case of regulatory overreach… not only because of the content of the Charter but because of the clear threat to the separation of powers which that act presents.”
This surprise initiative by the president, however, may be too little, too late. Leaders of the COSATU trade union federation are said to be stepping up their campaign for President Zuma to resign. A national shutdown is planned and a strike notice has been issued.
“The time has arrived for (Zuma) to allow the country to be led or taken forward by a new collective at government level. We no longer believe in Zuma’s leadership abilities,” said Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini. Both Cosatu and the South Africa Communist Party are backing Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa – a billionaire with a net worth of $450 million and a major beneficiary of empowerment deals – to replace Zuma.
Of the Mining Charter, Ramaphosa urged both parties to go back to the drawing board… “In the end, the mining industry needs investors but at the same time it needs to transform.”