HomeBusinessFreedom Day’s legacy and black economic empowerment

Freedom Day’s legacy and black economic empowerment

As we celebrate Freedom Day, we’re reminded of the courage of those who fought for our democracy. Yet, members of the anti-apartheid movement not only fought for the equal right to vote and take political office, but for the economic freedom of every black South African. With this in mind, we must acknowledge that 30 years into democracy, we have come a long way – but not nearly far enough.

A critical challenge remains even in today’s society: a lack of transformation, economic inclusivity, and empowerment. Too few black South Africans hold executive positions in our country’s most influential corporations.

Consider that according to the Commission for Employment Equity’s latest annual report, 62.9% of top management positions remain occupied by white people, while nearly three-quarters of these positions are held by men.

Meanwhile, the Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS) organisation reveals that some 95% of informal businesses are owned by black South Africans who, by implication, remain marginalised and excluded from the formal economy.

Ultimately, economic empowerment is essential to the sustainable growth and development of our nation. To expand our tax base, create job opportunities, and lift households out of poverty, we must create an environment in which more black-owned businesses can thrive. Likewise, numerous studies have proved that diversity at the executive and boardroom level benefits bottom lines.

As a result, we must emphasise increasing investments into black-owned businesses, the development and promotion of black executives, and organisational transformation at major corporates to unlock our country’s full growth potential.

Taking measures to encourage change

As the CEO of the black-owned and operated Moti Group of companies, as well as in my role as the Chairman of the Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF), this has been a focal point of my dealings, believing that, as business leaders, we all need to set the example in ensuring that more young black men and women succeed in professional environments.

To promote more diverse and inclusive organisations, we must clear the road ahead for these young people to enter, and then hold the door open so that more experienced men and women can achieve senior leadership positions in recognition of their contributions and abilities.

We must implement targeted policies and initiatives that support diversity on a greater level than we have done over the past three decades. And, as investors and leaders, we must take up the responsibility of activist shareholders to ensure that organisations follow through on their transformation pledges and targets.

Additionally, mentorship initiatives that coach young black South Africans in large businesses could be another powerful tool to promote their development and accelerate their careers, connecting them with influential people, and giving them the experience needed to pursue senior positions.

We must further prepare the next generation of black entrepreneurs to launch successful businesses once they complete their schooling. This means ensuring that every young black South African is given access to a quality education, and that our syllabus starts teaching real-world business knowledge, while still promoting other important fields such as in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

But it also means not only giving them the theoretical knowledge, but providing practical tips and guidance – perhaps even in the form of facilitating and incentivising learnerships with other entrepreneurs. This would require considerable changes in our education system, but would allow these young people to gain real-world exposure to business skills and knowledge that extends beyond the classroom, equipping them with the experience required to build resilient and prosperous companies.

Finally, we must create a more welcoming, enabling environment for black-owned businesses to thrive. This involves providing better access to affordable financing, cutting back the regulatory red tape that obstructs so many black entrepreneurs, and offering targeted support services to help more entrepreneurs launch and manage their businesses.

For our economy to flourish, we must begin breaking the barriers impeding the progress of black people as business and industry leaders. This can only be achieved if all South Africans come together and play their part to promote transformation in the interests of a more inclusive, equitable future for our country.