Black to the future

Ethekwini Metro is taking a leaf out of the Afrikaner nationalists’ play book by introducing a new form of job reservation.

eThekwini Metro has embarked on an aggressive strategy of job reservation for black Africans, much like the National Party did for poor Afrikaners in a bid to shore up dwindling support. 

In February the metro hosted what may have been the country’s first Radical Economic Transformation Conference – reinforcing a policy shift towards job reservation for black Africans. But the ANC-run municipality appears to be scapegoating Indian businesses for its own internal failures – blaming them, as a demographic, for the city’s shrinking economic growth.

The city has been controlled by the ANC for 15 years, dominating the metro with 57% of the vote in the 2016 local government elections – reflecting a 4% decline from 2011 – while the DA grew by just over 5% to 26,92%, and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) which, at 4.2%, is on an upward trajectory throughout the province.

Conference delegates called for simplicity in the tender system, fairness of opportunity, and no corruption.

Yet the metro has for years abused Section 36 of the Municipal Finance Management Act, which allows the city to circumvent all tender processes. In the main these tenders have gone to selected tenderprenuers such as the politically connected Mpisane family or the Gcaba brothers, who are known to be relatives of former president Jacob Zuma.

The city, which has been embroiled in several large-scale corruption scandals, has recently embarked on a policy of restricting media access to council decision-making bodies.

The Radical Economic Transfor-mation Conference was organised by a recently registered non-profit called the Federation For Radical Economic Transformation (FFRET) with the metro footing the bill of roughly R1 million.

FFRET is led by Bonga Shongwe who has been characterised as a “mafia boss” in the local press. He is a member of the infamous Delangokubona Business Forum which has earned a reputation for invading construction sites, brandishing firearms, and halting all work while demanding 30% of the contract’s value (nose211).

Numerous local businesses have had to obtain court interdicts against the  forums (that are now a part of FFRET),  including the ANC-led KwaDukuza Municipality which incorporates the coastal hamlet of Ballito. They described Delangokubona’s modus operandi as “Mafia-style assaults”.

In Durban, FFRET persuaded the city to pay them off with a conference. In February 2017 the council adopted a “Radical Economic Transformation Policy Framework”, citing former president Jacob Zuma’s call for practical implementation of a “RET”. The framework did not explicitly say contracts are reserved for black Africans, but this is now what is now clearly understood by the phrase.

In May 2017, Durban Mayor Zandile Gumede said the city was unapologetic about promoting black economic transformation. She said “those who want to do business with the city must get used to black”.

The framework originally required that contractors who were awarded tenders in excess of R30m must ensure that 30% of their subcontractors are local black African businesses. However, the conference was told that, in reality, subcontractors must be used in any contract awarded.  

The “RET” framework also specifies the industries which provide services for the city. Called “low-hanging fruit”, these include bakeries, suppliers of groceries, detergent manufacturers and suppliers, toilet paper, office furniture, construction material, footwear, billboards, recycling services, security and the built-environment professions. 

During the conference the city’s head of Supply Chain Management Andre Pietersen kept referring to “the demographic I’ve been told not to mention”, intimating that that group was largely responsible for “RET” having failed in the city. That demographic, it emerged, was the city’s Indian business community – or as one attendee informed the writer, “like the Guptas”. 

To help Durban break down race groups under the umbrella of “black”, Pietersen said the city could now differentiate by using the term “Black Business Enterprise (BBE)” to represent Indian, or “Other Black” and “Preferred Business Enterprise” to represent black African.

“Out of the spend going to BBE, 94% was for one particular target group and I don’t have to say… (Indian). The executive council approved a ‘Preferred Black Enterprise’ category, to correct this ‘distortion of spend’. We deserve applause for this,” said Pietersen – who appears to be coloured.

Pietersen said the city had to go through “legal gymnastics” to reserve contract jobs for black African businesses. “For a long time we were told we could not do set-asides. Now we have those set-asides and that’s what we call Contract Participation Goals. We had to work our way around the legal system. We said we are not going to call it ‘set-asides’, we are going to call it ‘Contract Participation Goals’.”

The city’s official position is that without “RET” black African protests will remain violent.

A source in the municipality said the city was playing a dangerous game by trying to placate the thuggish “forum” groupings and could find itself in a position where it cannot deliver on its promises.

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