28 November 2012

South Africa: Proposed Bee Amendments Nonsensical, Immoral and Counter-Productive

The proposed amendments to the Department of Trade and Industry's Code of Good Practice are nonsensical, morally wrong and will hamper social development efforts in the Western Cape and elsewhere.

As it is, the Department of Social Development struggles to meet the demand for social services, particularly in the rural areas of our province. There are no indications that the situation is improving; if anything the slowing economy means that the demands on an already stretched social services safety net it is getting worse.

It is the network of community-based organisations and NGOs that catch those who fall through the gaps in the government net. In some rural areas these are the only service providers.

It is no secret that many are already in crisis. There is no shortage of examples. The Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children was one that got widespread publicity. Less publicised, but just as worrying, is the closure of Mothers2Mothers -once so successful that it wrote to the Community Chest suggesting that its annual grant be given to an organisation that needed the money more.

Crucial work

These organisations and many like them do crucial work and are reliant on every cent they can raise.

The Community Chest has already experienced a significant decline in corporate donations, which in the past financial year shrank by 33%. This is largely due to the straitened economy, with many corporate donors understandably considering their primary responsibility to their employees.

One advantage they do get by donating to organisations such as the Community Chest is our current BEE status.

For an umbrella organisation such as the Community Chest, which works across eight social development sectors - from early childhood development to elderly care - compliance with the proposed regulations will be complicated and costly, and determining the ratios of which race groups benefit from grant funding, in-kind donations and training nigh on impossible.

Besides the practical difficulties of imposing the proposed code, or perhaps because of these, we expect that should the amendment be passed, corporate donations will virtually cease with all the associated implications for our more than 300 beneficiaries and thousands of organisations like them around the country.

The suggestions are morally abhorrent

But there's a bigger issue at play here. The suggestions are morally abhorrent and fly in the face of our values, which include dignity and compassion. There no is fine print that dictates to which race groups this dignity or compassion should be extended.

The Community Chest of the Western Cape serves the marginalised and vulnerable. Given South Africa's demographics and history the majority of these people are black or coloured. Many of our programmes, including the training we offer, seek to redress the consequences of apartheid.

But is a white orphan any less deserving of help than his or her coloured or black counterpart? Do we ignore a destitute white pensioner, so we can continue to earn the maximum BEE points?

If a society is judged on how it treats its poor and vulnerable then we have collectively failed if this amendment is passed.

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