More than 22 years ago, South Africa defied expectations and successfully transformed the bitter and nasty legacy of apartheid through the power of the ballot, ushering in a new democratic government that is free of racial injustices.
Despite the country’s significant progress in the provision of socio-economic and essential services such as free housing, access to basic education, access to institutions of higher learning, improved health care, electricity and water etc, efforts to reduce historical imbalances and building a more inclusive economy are still hampered by a lack of transformation specifically in the private sector.
Whilst it is true that one cannot give enough emphasis on the importance of a thriving private sector in order to have sustainable economic growth and development in the country, it is essentially just as important to take note and redress the inequitable ownership and capture of the economy, which unfortunately is still in the hands of minorities. With the high rate of unemployment in the country, the call for economic freedom and economic redress has started become louder and louder.
Albeit, government has gone to great detail to ensure that transformation takes place through legislation such as Employment Equity Act to correct imbalances in the workplace, Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment to bring about transformation in the business sector, the Pension Fund Act and Medical Scheme’s Act which both advocate for transformation of board of trustees. In practise, transformation is still very much a dream for many organisations.
In the Pension and Provident Fund sector, for instance, the government placed the responsibility of transformation on the Principal Officers of the Fund, who in practice are still accountable and report to a Chief Financial Officer or Chief Executive Officer of that particular fund. Due to these workplace dynamics, one may argue, that the limitation of power that Principal Officers may experience in the workplace (the fund), could be a huge hindrance for transformation.
According to the Deputy Dean for Research and Post Graduate studies in the Faculty of Economic Management Sciences at UP, Prof Nkomo, organisational culture in companies are not neutral spaces and are typically formed and shaped by the values of the dominant group. This means that the continued “hoarding” of positions in boards of trustees and executive directorship at board level could well be an indirect hindrance to the advancement of black executives in these top positions, particularly in the private sector
In fact according to a statement issued by the Department of Labour in June 2015, white male dominance to top and senior management positions, was still firmly at 70%, with the remaining 30% shared among Indians, coloureds and black professionals. According to the stats the biggest transformation in these senior positions for black professionals still occurred largely in the public/ government sector.
One is inclined to ask the question the type of efforts Principal Officers can make to ensure that the principles of transformation are echoed in the fund and within their different workplaces.
Current legislation which makes provision for transformation is often found in Employment Equity Act which manages Employer and Employee relations and provides a quota system that almost urges private companies to ensure that they at least meet the minimum statistics required to ensure compliance where affirmative action and employment equity is concerned. However, the same cannot be said about the election or appointment of members of the board of trustees or executive or non-executive directors of the company. This oversight has left an almost subtle barrier which continues to maintain inequality at that level.
By this factor alone, one can assert that there is no real transformation in the boardroom, where the real decisions are made. In these board meetings, there are still persistent effects of what may be labelled racism and oppression; and a strict maintenance of the white male dominance status quo, with the only other representative being from a member of a union, if any. This could possibly offer the reason why there is still such a strong dominance of the white male in top management positions in companies.
In conclusion, transformation cannot be effected from the bottom up. Though one may argue that a more legislated approach the achieving this transformation may be required at that level of leadership, it is important to note that there has to be concerted effort from the executive management and directorship of the company.
Principal Officers are required to be mandated to fulfil the duties and obligations of their roles without the fear of intimidation from their superiors in the execution of the transformation of the board. Once the board transformed, it is only a matter of time before the top level executive is transformed to reflect the true demographics of the country.