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Black Economic Empowerment is Not Reverse Racism

Black economic empowerment (BEE) is a system in South Africa which aims to redress the inequalities of the past by transferring the country’s wealth and land from the previously advantaged elite (mainly the now-minority white) to the black majority (black Africans, Indians and mixed-race South Africans who are known locally as “coloureds”).



While it may be offensive to refer to people as “coloured” outside of South Africa, that is not the case in South Africa, itself, and the mixed-race population uses it to refer to their own people.

Many South Africans feel that BEE is “reverse racism,” as it affects employment opportunities for white people; some even go as far as to draw comparisons between the current legislation and the legislation implemented by the National Party (NP) government in South Africa between 1948 and 1994.

According to a study conducted by the South African Institute of Race Relations in 2017, white South Africans still enjoy a better quality of life compared to their counterparts of other races. The study compared issues of education, income and employment. The results determined that there was a 30 percent difference in the pass rate of white versus black students, with the white population four times as likely to be employed than their black counterparts. The study confirmed that Indian and colored South Africans also have a slightly higher quality of life than their black counterparts.

The study also found that 63.3 percent of white and 42.3 percent of Indian households spend more than $838 per month compared to only 8.1 percent of black households and 18.9 percent of coloured households.  Furthermore, 62 percent more white households have access to healthcare as compared to their black counterparts.

If BEE was reverse racism, would white South Africans still have the highest quality of life in South Africa?

The current way in which BEE is implemented is undoubtedly flawed. Due to corruption within South Africa, the system has mainly benefited elite black people and has not managed to benefit the people who need it, i.e. the poor majority. 

However, to compare BEE to Apartheid is incorrect, as well. Apartheid was a severe crime against humanity during which people were denied basic human rights.

During Apartheid, non-white people were denied opportunities based on a belief that they were culturally, genetically and intellectually inferior to whites. BEE does not degrade the white community, and once the resources are distributed according to the demographics of the country, there will be no need for redress measures.

While I personally do not agree with the current way in which BEE is being implemented, there is definitely need for redress in the country. The average white or Indian student may moan about how a black student may have got lower marks than them but still got a place in university ahead of them.

Think of it this way: the average black student likely had to do their schooling in the English language, which is not their mother tongue, requiring extra effort than someone who speaks English as their native language. English is statistically the fourth most common first language after Zulu, Xhosa, and Afrikaans. Additionally, the majority of black students attend township schools which are under-resourced compared to urban schools.

For someone to achieve academically in an under-resourced school arguably requires as much effort as someone getting a B in a school with ample resources. 

Take the following common scenario into consideration.

A young South African black student works hard in school and grows up in a house where he is the breadwinner to his two younger siblings as his parents recently died. Every day after school, the student has to head to a local tuck-shop in order to earn the money to buy food for him and his siblings.

The student cannot afford to pay tuition for after school tutoring, but through hard work, manages to average a D during his senior year in high school and qualifies to enroll in a university.

There are millions of students like this in South Africa. Of course, not every white South African can afford extra tuition or has an easy life, but according to statistics, a large amount can rather than can’t in comparison to their black counterparts.

If you wonder if BEE is reverse racism, the answer is no, it’s not. You may want to just “get over it,” just as South Africans are told to get over Apartheid. 

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