Black economic empowerment (BEE) has become a highly contested concept in South Africa's post-apartheid economic policy discourse. Its critics have argued that the set of policies and programmes that constitute BEE amount to little more than elite enrichment and elite ‘co-option’ (Mbeki 2011). Some point to the opportunistic, rent-seeking behaviour of many BEE investors (Cargill 2010: 16), whereas others suggest that it has become a self-reinforcing institution in need of urgent reform (Lindsay 2011: 236). This chapter engages with the BEE debate in a rather different way by placing the question of post-apartheid black empowerment within a broader historical and intellectual context. Using Hosken Consolidated Investment (HCI), a BEE company that grew out of the investment wing of the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (Sactwu) as a case study, it makes the argument that an approach to broad-based empowerment existed before 1994, and in fact preceded official attempts to legislate for it through the 2004 Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment Act (South Africa 2004).
The chapter begins by outlining the establishment and subsequent development of HCI, and how its founders, John Copelyn and Marcel Golding, sought to capitalise on some of the earliest, and most lucrative, empowerment deals in the post-1994 period.
It explains how, by channelling funds to union members as well as to a comprehensive welfare programme under the aegis of the HCI Foundation, the two businessmen constructed a holistic empowerment ‘ecosystem’ for union members and their families. The chapter then locates HCI's idiosyncratic approach within a historical tradition in the independent trade union movement that has its intellectual roots in the worker-oriented syndicalist movement of the early twentieth century. It concludes by juxtaposing the HCI story with the underlying ideology, and subsequent critiques, of mainstream BEE, and makes the case that scholars and policy makers alike would do well to consider the diverse historical precedents, and subsequent manifestations, of broad-based empowerment when considering reforms to the current policy framework.
LAYING THE FOUNDATIONS
After attending the University of the Witwatersrand, where he graduated with a BA Honours degree in 1974, John Copelyn worked as a union organiser and activist until 1976 when he was banned by South Africa's apartheid government.