Renewed commitment to BEE will take a mindset change. Two South Africans compete in a high-jump event. The first runs forward, eyes on the crossbar, leaps into the air and sails over. The second stands in a deep ditch from where the bar is just visible, then scrambles out of the ditch and tries to jump over.
This is the experience of over 13million South Africans who stand in the ditch of poverty, dug by a lack of education and skills, by unemployment, unequal access to opportunity, sub-human living standards and sheer hopelessness.
The democratic transformation of 1994 allowed every South African to participate in the event of their choice. Now we need an economic transformation that will allow every South African to participate fully, successfully and equally in the mainstream economy. We need a turnaround strategy that will remove the crippling ditch of poverty, grow an inclusive economy and create jobs.
Faced with more than a quarter of our population excluded from meaningful participation in the economy, this may seem an overwhelming challenge.
As the ANC meets this week for its crucial National Policy Conference at Gallagher Estate, the voice of business argues that we identify the levers with the most power to deliver this economic turnaround and then pull those with all our might.
When you drive a car, there are dozens of indicators that you could consider, but usually we focus on the three or four most important ones on the dashboard right before us.
In Business Unity South Africa's (Busa) view, the most important one, the rev counter of our economy, is the extent to which South Africans are economically empowered. And right now our rev counter hangs painfully and limply in the white.
After a great deal of introspection, business admits that our efforts at implementing the objectives of broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) have been inadequate. While the profit motive is what keeps business alive and thriving, an enlightened self-interest knows that the more people who participate meaningfully in the economy, the better and more sustainable business will be for everyone.
While the BBBEE Amendment Bill currently before Nedlac aims to ensure far more effective implementation, what is needed from business is a mindset change. We need to move away from the ticked-box grudge approach of narrow self-interest to a true embrace of the spirit of economic empowerment.
We also support integrated sustainability reporting, which gives us a good measure to which extent sustainability drives a business, providing the context for how deeply transformation is taking place.
Education and skills are the fuel tank of the economy and although business has made some good progress, the tank is far from full.
However, our combined efforts with government and labour are starting to pay off. The national accords on skills and basic education that were signed last year are resulting in business training beyond its needs, building extra capacity and thinking creatively about education and skills development. By September we will be able to report on the good progress that has been made in the first year.
No car can drive with a flat tyre and that's one indicator on my dashboard to which I naturally pay immediate attention. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the ones that make sure we have air in the tyres of the national economy. Without them the engine of the economy, creation of jobs, innovation and growth would not run.
Ensuring market access for SMEs has been boosted by the Preferential Procurement Act and the Local Procurement Accord signed last year between the government and its social partners.
Too many small businesses still find themselves struggling with access to finance and I am excited about the recent establishment of the Small Enterprise Finance Agency (Sefa). The private sector has also been an important catalyst for SME support through effective use of enterprise development funds.
While we rank high on innovation, infrastructure and banking, the inflexibility of our labour market is one of our biggest obstacles in the global arena. If we look at the instruments on the dashboard, we could probably say that this is the issue that will affect the speed at which we drive. A rigid labour market will force us into the global slow lane.
The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report ranks South Africa's labour market efficiency at a dismal 97 out of 143 countries, a blot on our record as the most competitive country in sub-Saharan Africa.
President Jacob Zuma has spoken about the "second transition" and urged ANC members to attend the conference in a spirit of finding solutions .
Broadening economic empowerment, developing skills, boosting business at its roots, becoming globally competitive - spadeful by spadeful, this is the ground that will fill the ditch that is denying more than a quarter of South Africans their equal chance of fulfilling their potential. - Businesslive