Broad-based black economic empowerment (B-BBEE) remains an integral part of South Africa's economic policies and transformation, President Jacob Zuma said at the opening of the inaugural B-BBEE Summit in Johannesburg on Thursday.
"(B-BBEE) is part of a broader objective of promoting inclusive growth and economic development," Zuma told the gathering of government, business and labour representatives, adding that the state would continue to intervene and promote transformation.
The two-day summit is being hosted by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in collaboration with the Presidential B-BBEE Advisory Council, which is chaired by Zuma.
Zuma emphasised that economic transformation was not just about big business deals for a few individuals in society. He said BEE policy should be consistently implemented across all parts of the economy to ensure maximum impact on as many South Africans as possible.
This year marks a decade since the passing of the Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment Act. Zuma said there had been successes and challenges over the last 10 years, and that the summit should reflect on what has worked and what has not worked, so as to help build a truly inclusive economy.
The South African economy had expanded by 83% since 1994, with total employment having increased by more than 3.5-million, accompanied by growth in the black middle class.
According to National Treasury, over R600-billion in BEE transactions had been recorded since 1995.
However, the country still faced unacceptable levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment. Income parity, in particular, remained skewed in terms of race: the average African household's annual income stood at R60 613 compared to that of white households at R365 164.
Zuma said there was a need to bridge the gap between the poor and the working class, and to encourage the growth of small businesses that are owned by black people, women, youth and people with disabilities.
The DTI's Black Business Supplier Development Programme has, since its inception in 2010, approved 2 128 applications to the value of R797-million, with a total 1 213 applications approved in support of black-owned SMMEs in 2012/13.
The National Empowerment Fund (NEF), which is mandated to grow black economic participation, has approved over 500 transactions worth over R5-billion to black empowered businesses across the country.
Zuma said that business training was crucial so that emerging entrepreneurs could gain confidence and expand beyond ownership to become industrialists.
In 2011, following the recession caused by the global financial crisis in 2008-09 - which led to a considerable decline in companies' contributions to BEE - a review of the BEE Act had been initiated to tighten up the law and address challenges such as BEE "fronting".
Zuma condemned the act of fronting, calling it unforgivable. "It distorts our empowerment picture, giving an impression of progress where there is none."
The National Assembly passed the B-BBEE Amendment Bill in June.